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Why meetings don't work anymore

Why meetings don't work anymore

It's time to talk about the elephant in the meeting room.

Credit: Dreamstime

Meetings don't work. Or, at least, the majority of staff meetings are time-wasting, productivity-killing, creativity-stifling products of wishful or delusional thinking.

Before the pandemic and its mass movement to remote and hybrid work, meetings were already problematic. We've all seen how meetings fail.

Most meetings in the office result from a policy to hold regular — often weekly — staff "update" meetings. Or they're the result of procrastination. We can't make a decision right now, so let's schedule a meeting. Or some new initiative, problem, or idea inspires action, and scheduling a meeting feels like action.

Once the meeting begins, eyes glaze, and some meeting participants start mentally tuning out the conversation while pretending to pay attention. Others don't even pretend; it's become increasingly normal or acceptable to stay glued to a laptop or phone screen during meetings.

Meetings are often dominated by attention-seekers, ladder climbers, extroverts, and long-winded speech-makers. In contrast, others mostly remain silent with little to no correlation between saying something and having something to say.

Meetings suppress creative thought. Most end in a fog of vagueness, without clear objectives, deadlines, and assignments. And employees hate them.

Many employees see meetings not as work but as a break from work — a time to socialise. "Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything," economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said.

The solution? Get control of your meetings, we're told by experts. You've heard the meeting advice.

Start on time and lock out late participants. Craft an agenda with no more than three items and stick to it. State the objectives of the meeting at the outset. Shut down the long-winded and push the quiet to talk. Ban phones and laptops. Don't allow non-meeting tasks during the meeting.

Finally, end the meeting on time even if the plan isn't finished. In other words, meetings are a massive waste of time unless you take drastic measures to forcibly shoehorn your employees' minds, bodies, and thoughts into a rigid, artificial, rule-based system.

Such regimented meetings were rare but doable. And then remote work's Zoom meeting revolution happened. Video meetings ended the ability to enforce some of the old meeting best-practices mandates. So instead of banning devices with screens, now they're required.

Meeting participants might be listening or have the meeting on "mute." They might be paying attention, or they might be playing online poker. But, the most likely mental activity during Zoom calls may be staring at oneself and stressing out over appearance, according to research.

Making meeting matters worse, flex work schedules and the globalisation of workforces mean that getting everybody into the same meeting simultaneously has become impractical.

Meetings are like television — they used to require real-time engagement, or you missed it; now, everybody tunes in on their own schedules. Yet we continue having so many meetings out of habit and delusional thinking.

That's why it's time to replace most meetings with new norms and technologies that provide the benefits of meetings without friction. The technology is already here.

It's time to evaluate the solutions for integrated communications within your organisation that make sense and minimise the friction of internal communications. For example, replace video meetings with asynchronous video and other media.

Making new norms is the hard part. But, in general, it's possible to embrace asynchronous solutions with good search and integrate with other tools (like scheduling, project collaboration, and others).

Fixing meeting burnout and internal communication starts with acknowledging that meetings are usually a waste of time and money and are a source of real employee dissatisfaction. I'll say it again: Meetings don't work anymore.

Asynchronous internal communication tools do. So it's time to cancel your meetings, clear your calendar and embrace the available new technology. And you definitely don't need to set up a meeting to decide to do so.


Tags remote work

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