Here's why meetings are self-defeating

We meet so often, there's no time to get work done

Over the years, I have been in many business meetings. Many long, boring and completely useless business meetings. My research into the topic said studies indicate the average professional is in meetings four work days a month, which over 40 years is about 5.3 years. That same person – me – apparently spent only slightly less than a year in 40 years commuting, so it raises the question: Why do people kvetch more about wasting time in traffic than wasting time at work? Disparities like this drive me crazy.

I’d rather drive than meet. After all, when I am driving I can think, while the typical business meeting I attended over the years was mind-numbing. Also, I have to 'fess up: As a manager over the years I called some of these meetings, because I assumed by observation that was what managers do, so I have numbed a few minds myself. Sorry. I should have known better – and businesses everywhere should have known better and should know better now.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. If anything, research suggests, the number and duration of superfluous business meetings – already way too much 40 years ago – has gone up and continues to rise.

For several years, I worked for a company that regularly flew me and 100 other company people from all over the country to headquarters for a few days of “team building” that was, to the minute, unproductive, and took me away from my regular job. The highlight of these meetings was the many highly paid consultants and business coaches who presented and read verbatim PowerPoint presentations.

I could have done the whole two to three days in less than half a day at my desk and retained more – or any! – information.  But it gives corporate executives the opportunity to preen and strut and basically glorify themselves while always sapping productivity in the name of boosting productivity. Yes, it’s one of the many conundrums of typical business management.

In some ways, I guess I figured that the rise in the number and length of business meetings in recent years is a direct response to the millennial generation’s penchant for working in teams; I assumed these young people are used to working in collaborative groups, even from their school days, and like to meet often to maintain the group dynamic in productivity. But just lately I have heard from a number of 20- and 30-somethings the same lament my age group experienced way back then and even today: We meet so often there’s scant little time to get actual work done.

And, interestingly enough, what these millennials told me was that these constant business meetings weren’t really about productivity and moving forward, but rather meetings where they are forced constantly to prove their own value to the organization.

“Half my time is spent justifying my job,” one young man told me. “I love my job, the actual work for which I was trained, but the rest of it makes me want to quit.”

Actually, I have heard this a lot lately. Counselors like to counsel, accountants like to account, teachers like to teach, marketers like to market, writers like to write – and they chose these professional paths for the work they found exciting while in school. Then they got jobs and believed all the recruiter/HR-people hype about the exciting work and environment offered by Company X or Organization Y, and within a relatively short amount of time became disillusioned by the constant harping and meetings. And – let’s be honest – disillusioned by poor, old-school, institutional and un-evolved management. Business management may well be the only discipline where survival of the fittest doesn’t apply.

This is the part where I should do the obvious and offer suggestions on how to make business meetings more valuable. I got nothing. One-on-one meetings have value, as do quick collaborations at the water cooler or in the hall. But once you get more than a couple of people – or egad, the whole office or entire company – the mind numbing sets in.

Actually, I’m happy to find that I have something – anything – in common with millennials. But their managers are probably Gen-Xers or baby boomers, so now at least I know the reason for their disgust with us: mind-numbing meetings.

Stop the madness. Only, skip the meeting to discuss – in the name of progress.

Categories: Magazine Articles, Management & Leadership