Are meeting toxic?

March 25, 2010

I’ve been reading Reworked – a new book by 37 Signals – which suggests that work meetings are “toxic”. (Download a short sample here.)

Reworked - 37 Signals

The worst interruptions of all are meetings. Here’s why:

  • They’re usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things.
  • They usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute.
  • They drift off- subject easier than a Chicago cab in a snowstorm.
  • They require thorough preparation that most people don’t have time for.
  • They frequently have agendas so vague that nobody is really sure of the goal.
  • They often include at least one moron who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense.
  • Meetings procreate. One meeting leads to another meeting leads to another…

When I first read this, I completely agreed. Almost everyone I know has attended dull, tedious and pointless meetings that have few (if any) outcomes.

But then I got to thinking about decision making. Most organisations, like unions, political groups, community associations, make decisions at meetings. In fact, meetings can be enormously productive, with ideas proposed and problems sorted out, and action plans determined.

I think what 37 Signals are pointing out is that poorly run, disorganised meetings with no clear agenda and an inadequate chairperson are toxic. Having a clear, concise agenda for the meeting to shape discussion, and an experienced, confident chairperson to keep everyone’s attention on track, can make meetings quick, productive and relatively pleasant.

Unfortunately, these meetings are fairly rare.

[box type=”info”]You can get a copy of Reworked from Amazon.[/box]


Comments

  1. Alison - March 25, 2010 at 11:43 pm -

    IME managerial and committee meetings are like this – that's why they're often useless. But if you have a goal and keep them short you can have effective meetings. No meeting should be more than 45 minutes. And you've gotta have a porpoise!

  2. Josh - July 22, 2010 at 6:28 am -

    Everyone wants to get out of meetings asap… unless of course they have something to say and suddenly time is no issue.

  3. mikey - March 29, 2012 at 12:46 am -

    After 30 years of watching, I’m forced to agree: meetings are toxic.

    I’ve been to meetings. There is one reason for meetings: when absolutely everyone attending will spend more time on a subject without a meeting than with it.

    There’s not another reason for a meeting.

    IBM conducted studied in the 50’s and 60’s revealing that the cost of project development was actually heavily correlated with the number of meetings the project conducted. And I’d go so far as to say, you can estimate the cost of a software project directly by tripling the hours actually spent in meetings (not estimated; managers constantly underestimate how many meetings actually take place, just like developers constantly underestimate the amount of code). I used to estimate by quadrupling the development cost, but the meeting time estimate is much more reliable.

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