THIRTY ONE HOURS
Australian productivity software developer Atlassian, in a report for the US market, estimates most employees will spend 31 unproductive hours in meetings each month. Almost half (47 per cent) of meeting participants consider meetings to be the number-one time waster at work.
So how to explain all these meetings despite their corrosive impact? Perhaps it’s a misplaced faith in meetings as a form of staff engagement and inclusion; a faux democratic ideal that 'values' the input of employees in corporate decision-making? Except decisions are generally not made but merely deferred to yet another meeting. Or resolutions are so indecisive, porous or otherwise doomed to inaction that one might reflect 'never was so little decided by so many'.
Meetings are a fail-safe cover for management inaction. When too lazy, too weak or too 'collaborative' to make a decision – call a meeting. Deciding to hold a meeting may feel like a decision but too many meetings are black holes into which unmade decisions disappear without a trace.
No matter how pointless, meetings always pull a full house. Some are there because they have to be but there is always a band of eager participants who define their self-worth by the number of meetings they attend: they are meeting tragics.
Every meeting has its set characters: the meeting hog who has something to say about everything; the grandstander intent on dominating proceedings; the parrot who earnestly repeats something which has already been said; the Edward de Bono acolyte who insists on figuratively donning one of the six coloured hats – 'speaking with my red hat on' – before every inane utterance; the jargonista itching for a chance to show off the latest management babble; and the office bore who always brings up the matter of unwashed coffee cups.
Then there’s the chairman. The good one has an agenda, defines outcomes, keeps things on track and finishes up with things achieved or at least clearly defined tasks.
But too many, having invited more people than necessary to the meeting, allow everyone a say, no matter how tedious, irrelevant or interminable. Often a meeting in freefall will only be brought to a merciful close by the next meeting waiting impatiently at the door. Unfortunately, the chilling words uttered by the flustered chairman as papers are noisily collected will usually be: “We’ll pick up from where we left off at the next meeting.”
Employees spend so much time at meetings that it is now considered essential to feed participants lest they fade under the intense pressure of successive talk-fests. And so it’s sandwiches for lunch meetings and muffins at all other times.
For the delicate of stomach it is hellish to be surrounded by famished meeting-tragics earnestly droning on as they chomp away at generously filled sandwiches. Quite apart from the horror of observing others masticating foodstuffs while discussing the intricacies of Agenda Item 4(iii), it’s difficult to take seriously colleagues who spend the rest of the meeting sporting multi-grain smiles. Or blueberries in their beards.