Taking minutes and wasting hours? Are staff meetings a necessary evil?

The following article is from a website called One Thousand Lights  by Aziza Green. Yes, it’s my wife and yes, it’s brilliant.

I’ve been talking about meetings with my husband Mat. We get super passionate about obscure and nerdy things sometimes. We come up with business ideas, strategies and plans every other day. This possibly reflects some kind of chemical imbalances that we share or it could just be genius in it’s purest form. (I’ll let you be the judge of that).

So yes, the other day we were obsessing over and sharing funny / horror stories about meetings we’ve been subjected to in our professional and private lives. From the old uni days where we sat in customer service staff meetings under self-important retail middle managers, to teacher staff meetings. From small business meetings with 4-7 teamsters involving a lot of swearing, to corporate marketing meetings with 40+ unit and department marketing managers and officers. Sprinkle that with everything from event planning to culture setting meetings in church and volunteer organisations and we’ve seen the gamut of the microcosm that is “the meeting”.

Some meetings can be so empowering, liberating and energising. When the ideas are flowing, the enthusiasm is intoxicating and there is a sense of buy-in and “team”, it is like productivity crack.

But let’s be honest for a minute and just admit that 90% of meetings… no 95.5% of meetings (clearly these are numbers I’ve pull out of thin air – I’m more philosopher than a statistician after all) are boring, painful, unproductive and soul destroying.

So we’ve decided that if we ever got to be in charge of anything or anyone, we would design the meeting of our dreams for our organisations. And because we like you, we’ve decided to share our grand design with you.


The DREAM meeting:

  1. First order of business. Organise a huge meeting with one agenda, make sure everyone knows what their job is for the next month and cancel all meetings. (Breathe it in.) If the need to meet arises, the “organiser” (the person who feels the need to organise the meeting) must submit a clear agenda for their meeting to the group. Others in the group may contribute to the agenda, but it must be circulated before the meeting.
  2. The agenda must have no more than five points. Why five? Because we like the number five. It’s cute. 5. What do you give someone when they’ve done a great job – a high five! Not a high seven, that would be stupid. We have five senses. There are five vowels and who doesn’t love vowels? (Anyone who thinks “Y” is now a vowel deserves a slap, with seven fingers.) We never remember anything after the fifth point. You know what numbers are cuter than five, one through four. Those are also good numbers of points to make for an agenda. Over five and you’re overweight and dead to us.
  3. All team meetings be capped at 25 minutes as the ideal, or up to one hour max. We get that some meetings – particularly creative or culture building ones (or ones involving large groups) may require more flexibility and breathing room for discussion and collaboration. These type of meetings should be the exception and not the rule – more of your monthly rather than weekly deal. So if you absolutely must run a longer than usual team meeting, break the meeting shorter blocks to deal with one issue at a time and then move on. If you can’t communicate something, figure out a problem or come up with ideas in the time allocated, then you haven’t thought about the problem enough, and therefor you do not have the adequate thinking or tools to appropriately address or fix it. Come back to the drawing board when you have something more solid to work with.Which brings us to our:
  4. Golden rule: You are not welcome to the meeting (even if, no especially if, you organised it) if you do not have a clear idea of what you want to contribute to the meeting and to the team. If you have nothing to contribute and no-one has explicitly asked for you to contribute, stay away. If you organise a meeting and do not have clear ideas to bring to the table, we will kick you out of your own meeting and treat it a lovely little coffee break to which you are not invited.
  5. Every meeting must end with clear and practical ACTION POINTS. Every person in the meeting must leave the room with a clear idea of what is required of them. Time must be allocated to making sure that everyone knows what they need to do next. If you organise a meeting with no action points at the end, you are buying everyone coffee for the rest of the week. (Rules require consequences people!)

5. b. This is not really a point, more of an aside to say asides are NOT allowed. And also to say, how cute do 5 points look. Awww!

Respect the agenda and protect the time. Train one another to stay on point and not wonder in to “soapbox” territory which typically diverts the focus of the meeting and bores everyone to tears. Encourage one and other to speak about their personal gripes in constructive and appropriate private forums rather than abusing the public forum of team meeting.

Brilliant! (or crazy?) If you get to have any influence on the meetings you sit in maybe you could experiment with some of or all of our points. If you don’t have influence on the overall culture of your team meetings we encourage you to focus on what you can do, which is implement some of these points in your own practice.

If you come to realise you are one of those people who uses team meetings to bang on about your own personal agendas it’s time to change your awful awful ways. Pay attention to the attention span of others and find better (less passive-aggressive) ways to resolve your issues. If you get to run the occasional meeting or part thereof, be organised, submit an agenda, think through your points and be succinct. Even if no-one says anything, EVERYONE will love you for it! Maybe if you do this consistently, it may even catch on.

We left out some other stuff from our fantasy meeting, such as: the Butler named Jasper who always has our earl grey tea ready in our favourite cups and the pinball machine and the walls lined with butcher paper and a million coloured pens…. But we want to know, what would your dream meeting look like?

Do you believe that meetings are a necessary evil?

Posted by Mathew Green on May 06, 2014  /   Posted in Uncategorized

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