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Corporate meetings are a ubiquitous presence in every corporate that prides itself on being a modern corporate. Innumerable hours are spent on meetings in such places. The senior management is usually seen hustling from one meeting to the other, probably feeling very important also. They are unable to do other/ real work due to rush of meetings and either keep sitting late to catch up or the pending list keeps piling up. In both cases, either the employee suffers, or the work suffers.
I have been a senior executive in various corporates for very long years and am privy to all that goes on in the meetings. Today, I would like to play the devil’s advocate and make a long critique of corporate meetings. I hope someone somewhere will pay heed and things would change for better.
What’s in a Meeting?
Nature of Meeting is Unclear
Meetings are/ should be held for various reasons: there may be ‘review meetings’ for reviewing the progress of a project, or achievement against some goals, or performance of a recently installed machinery/ equipment etc.; or it could be a ‘decision making meeting’ where plans/data is presented to senior management for decision making; or it could be ‘brainstorming meeting’ to generate new ideas, and so on. A mixed meeting is usually a disaster because the participants are unable to switch from one mode to the other, and very little is accomplished, if at all. Worse still is the situation where a meeting is called for a certain purpose, and then it switches to another topic; the participants are not prepared but do not say so and keep doing pointless discussion.
It should be mandatory for the meeting caller to define the nature of meeting clearly so that the participants come prepared, with the desired mindset, discuss, take decisions, and leave.
The agenda is Vague
Sometimes the agenda is circulated beforehand, sometimes it is delivered on the spot. If the participants are required to make preparation before coming to meeting, then the agenda must be shared well in time before the meeting. Well, there would be hardly any meeting where prior preparation would not be required. The other issue is that the agenda neither clearly spells out the items to be discussed nor says who will lead a particular topic. For example, the topic ‘discussion on the possibility of a new business line’ is an absolute non-starter. Firstly, it shows that the corporate has not decided to add a new business line, so it would just be loud thinking without any particular direction.
The agenda must be made with framework, showing who will do what, if they need to bring some documents etc. The items should move in logical sequence and too many things must not be included.
Starting Time is Observed; Closing Time is Missed
All agendas have a starting time, and most corporate meetings start on time; the time allocation for each item is shown but it is rarely followed, and so the closing time is not followed; the result is that the discussions go on endlessly. The participants are lost and tired and some agenda items may have to be deferred. If a bunch of senior managers cannot manage the discussion on agenda items within stipulated time, it reflects poorly on their time management skills. If a person knows he has five minutes to speak, then it is five minutes, no more.
It is the responsibility of the person conducting the meeting to ensure that the meeting stays on course and closes on time.
Precious Time is Wasted; Productivity is Compromised
Many corporate meetings are often unproductive and time-consuming, rather time wasting. Employees spend a significant portion of their work hours in meetings that could be better utilized for actual work, leading to decreased productivity. Productivity is particularly suffered when operational people are dragged into meetings. Operational people include supply chain, production, and quality operations. These people cannot make up lost work by working late, whereas their counterparts in finance, HR, marketing can do so. This critical difference must be considered and appreciated by the meeting organizers.
Most meetings should preferably be done in zero hours to protect productivity.
There are Too Many Meetings
Some organizations have a culture of holding meetings for every minor decision, which can soon lead to meeting fatigue. The constant disruption of workflow for meetings can be frustrating and counterproductive. In a 40-hours work week, how many hours should be allocated for meetings? I had a max cutoff of 20 hours. Even this was excessive, but there were simply too many of them and I could not refuse most of them because of the portfolio I was handling. Having said that, unless every senior manager pushes for it, the frequency shall not be reduced.
The corporate must monitor the number of meetings, their durations, and must have a cap on both.
Meetings are Frustrating
Meetings frequently lack a clear agenda, defined goals, or actionable outcomes. The participants leave the meeting without a clear understanding of what was accomplished and feel frustrated. There are several more reasons for getting frustrated. It is usually a show of power by the senior managers who would try to drag the meeting their way, throwing it off course and wasting everyone’s time. Some senior managers are acutely sensitive about their turfs, and this leads to wars of words in the meetings, while others look on and feel bad. The effectiveness of meeting is jeopardized, and it leads to frustration. Even generally, most meetings are inconclusive and ineffective, causing frustration among the participants.
Meetings Offer Limited Participation
In larger meetings, many participants do not get the opportunity to participate or contribute to the meeting; they feel useless sitting through the meetings. There are other people who try to dominate the meetings with over-participation and usurp the right and time of others. This practice has several problems: diversity of views is lost; maybe some valuable inputs are missed; the silent participants feel bad and refuse to speak up even when the occasion arises.
It is the responsibility of the meeting conductor to keep everyone included and maintain balance and decorum.
Meetings are not Followed Through
The meeting minutes may be circulated but are not keenly reviewed by the participants. The decisions taken during the meetings remain unattended. The follow up work is not done. The underlying cause of all these is the fact that there are too many meetings and therefore matters are lost to follow up. The projects are discussed and assigned without considering how much the person is handling already, with the resulting poor follow through. Some senior managers like to get hold of too many things to show their importance. Later, they cannot handle, and things are lost.
Allocation of work should be judicious and logical.
Meetings have Serious Cost
Meetings’ cost can be astronomical. The biggest cost is the time consumed by all participants, particularly senior managers. The hourly wages calculations multiplied by number of hours spent make huge calculation. A 2-hour meeting attended by 10 people is 20 hours consumed, which is two and a half days. An 8-hour meeting of 25 people is 200 hours or 25 working days, which means one month. There are other costs like traveling, boarding, and lodging, refreshments, materials used during meetings, meeting room arrangements, and a host of other things. If the corporates start calculating the cost, they will rationalize meetings immediately.
The sum up is that the entire portfolio of corporate meetings needs urgent review and corrective measures.