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The unbearable shiteness of meetings

It may feel essential to pencil that Monday morning chinwag into the all-staff calendar, but trust me, it isn’t.

Why? Because meetings are a redundant, archaic waste of time, and, as Dilbert once said, “I don’t want to get dragged into your time suck hole”.  

There are, in this exciting day and age, a multitude of ways to disseminate information among staff and colleagues in a highly structured, organised way. The meeting – and most especially the all-staff meeting – is not one of them.

It’s all about the flow on information. Ask yourself this: Which way does the information flow during most meetings? Specifically, who’s sharing what with whom?

Is the information coming from the ‘top’ and travelling ‘down’? Then it’s not information sharing per se, it’s a broadcast, and that could probably be done much better via email.

Alternatively, is management requesting information from the underlings? Then that’s survey, all-staff email or suggestion-box territory.

The options above are quick, more or less painless, and efficient – everything a meeting isn’t. It takes a meeting to stretch a quick and friendly Q&A into a universally-loathed hour-and-a-half ordeal.  

But maybe you’re looking to fry bigger, more serious business fish. Perhaps, for example, you’ve stumbled across a hyper-relevant 1,000 page report that really speaks to you, seems to sum up the heart of the business, and could perhaps serve as something of a mission statement for the company, you know, going forward? No harm in a quick and casual all-staffer in the coffee room to discuss it, right?

Hell yes, there is. Expecting overburdened assistants, Dougal from accounts and the broken-hearted cleaning lady to show up and act excited about your discovery-of-the-moment doesn’t show vision, it shows a troubling lack of empathy. Here’s a better move: share that genius article with the two or three direct colleagues who care – and can do something about it – and let the rest get on with their jobs.

And as for the much-touted ‘brainstorm session’, oh please.

99% of brainstorming is nothing more than people who were going to interrupt anyway being given full license to dominate the room with their loose-brained nonsense, all at the expense of a captive, on-the-clock audience, ad libitum, ad nauseam and ad infinitum. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that enthusiastic blather is somehow ‘synergy’. It isn’t. Real creativity never happens in a boardroom, and can’t be ‘directed’ by the boss.

Ask yourself, managers: Did your staff walk away from that last meeting with a concrete plan and a tangible to-do list? If so, where are those primary action items at now? And what happened to the to-do-list from the previous meeting? Did you solve the problems you were looking to solve? And do you think the collective hourly wages of the employees involved in those meetings was money well-spent?

At the end of the day, there are really only two reasons an all-staff meeting must occur.

One is to announce the cracking open of kegs at the Christmas party, so you can take credit for the wild shindig you’ve organised. The other is to announce sweeping layoffs, so you have to look the proletariat in the eye as you give them the arse. Most other justifications are specious and out of touch with the day-to-day priorities of the business and its staff.  

Running a meeting well is an acquired skill, one you very likely do not possess. If you do consider yourself a skilled meeting facilitator, then by all means carry on, but it might be worthwhile just taking a moment to check whether you’re not, in fact, merely a likeable time-waster. Because liked or not, that’s bad for business.  

Do you want to know how to truly manage your next all-staff meeting? Easy. Don’t have one. Send an email instead and do us all a favour: Keep it short.

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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