Meeting avoidance tactics

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The Devil’s Advocate


In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.

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It is hardly news that most meetings are a waste of time. They interrupt your day and break your concentration. Their premise is that someone else’s agenda is more important than yours. To be sure; sometimes it will be. If so, go. If not, challenge this profligacy with the firm’s resources:

  • What’s it for? What does the organiser want out of the meeting? What is its purpose? What decision does she need? It is not rude to challenge in this way: a meeting spends your time: time for which your employer pays you (cough) handsomely. It is only good business, and courtesy, to use that time efficiently.
  • Purpose, not process: Every meeting needs a purpose, not just a process. “Weekly team meeting” is not a purpose. “Stakeholder check-in” is not a purpose. “Working group” is not a purpose. These are processes. The clearer the purpose, the shorter, more targeted and more effective the meeting will be. Make sure you have a purpose.
  • Does this purpose need a meeting? Now you know the purpose. Is it:
  • Information: simply to circulate, or gather, information? No meeting needed: You can, and should, do that by email.
  • Validation: to validate a decision that has already been made? A common backside-covering tactic from a convenor, but do you want someone else’s arse cashing your cheques?
  • Six birds, one stone: Is the organiser trying to kill six birds with one stone – one of which is you, saving the organiser six conversations, but obliging you to sit through five you don’t care about? Is that a good use of the organisation’s specialist resources? Invite the organiser to follow up with you separately.
  • Do they really need you? Simply on the principle of maximising the use of the organisation’s resources, as few people as possible should attend any meeting. The more attendees, the less each participant can contribute, and the greater the psychological barriers to candid communication: who calls bullshit in front of 40 people? So do your bit to keep the meeting tight and effective:
  • If they don’t need your department, don’t go.
  • If they do, send the most junior person who can make the executive decision the meeting needs (that person will enjoy exercising the responsibility the most!)
  • Where is the meeting? Even though it’s a drag to get up and go somewhere, meetings work best in person.

In part, because it’s a drag to get up and go somewhere. It’s a discipline – it will filter out borderline irrelevant meetings. Meeting rooms confine a meeting in space and time. They impose a boundary within which you must concentrate. People can see you; they know if you tune out. Switch off your phone. Don’t multitask. If you can, should you be at the meeting?)

  • Conference calls and Skype suck: Conference calls or video calls fail because people can multitask. Obliging attendees to a physical location will filter out borderline unnecessary meetings. Even where participants are in different locations, convene physical meetings in each location bridged by video conference, rather than using Skype.

See also