Beware The Meaningless Meeting

Some days you sit in meetings, with deadlines looming and emails piling up, and wonder to yourself, why am I even here? It’s great to have a fun, friendly, and social environment at work, but sometimes it can be a time-suck. Oftentimes meetings take up much of our days, detracting from time that could be spent producing deliverables and furthering the mission of the agency.

In government, fruitless meetings represent loss of taxpayers’ money and federal workers’ time. Tom Fox, Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, spoke with Christopher Dorobek, host of the podcast DorobekINSIDER, on whether meetings are productive or wasteful.

The main way to evaluate a meeting, according to Fox, is to ask oneself if the meeting actually accomplished a preordained objective. Meetings that classify as failures either don’t have an objective, or don’t achieve anything.

“[For example], maybe you just didn’t need to have the meeting, but people have gotten into the normal course of action of just meeting,” Fox explained. “Or, it could be that the meeting didn’t have a clear set of objectives. Maybe they had a bad agenda, or maybe they didn’t facilitate things well. There’s any number of reasons why a meeting can go bad.”

Surprisingly, failed meetings are worse than just lost time, and they can cause harm in a number of ways. Oftentimes, people feel resentful if a meeting went badly, and the experience can engender negative associations, increase distrust amongst coworkers, and decrease employee morale.

At the same time, it’s probably not a great idea to eradicate meetings entirely. Meetings, if done well, can promote communication across departments and foster team building and camaraderie.

So, according to Fox, what’s to be done to make meetings a little less disastrous and a little more positive?

First of all, if an organization wants to evaluate its meeting strategy, Fox suggested an audit. An organization can look back over weeks or months and give each meeting one of three ratings: red (bad), yellow (on the fence), or green (good/productive). Having ratings such as those will help administrators understand where they can cut back to improve efficiency and organizational culture.

Employees can also lead by example by declining meetings. “The only way to fall out of that habit, as an individual or a leader, is to begin making some actual decisions about what meetings you’ll attend, which meetings you won’t,” said Fox. It’s important to communicate why you’re not attending, so that you can start the dialogue and set the precedent for scaling back on meetings. “I don’t think there’s any point in beating around the bush.”

As we hear repeatedly, to promote efficiency, it’s important to constantly self-evaluate, and this wisdom extends to meetings. Everyone loves a chance to hang out with their work bestie, but maybe that should be reserved for lunch and coffee breaks, rather than in and around meeting time, as often happens. When it comes to friends, meetings, and much else, quality over quantity!

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