Why Would Anyone Hold a Bad Meeting?

Pssst, want a stock tip that will make you rich?


Okay, here it is: phone a public corporation and ask to speak with the CEO.


If someone tells you that the CEO expects to be busy in meetings for the next six hundred years, call your broker and sell the stock short.


Why? Any company unable to manage an activity that should last an hour is on its way down the financial tubes.


Surveys show that companies waste an average of 20% of their payroll on bad meetings. And that’s just the beginning of the problem. Meetings keep people away from the tasks they were hired to perform — tasks that make money for the company and keep the business ahead of the competition.


In fact, if people waste time in meetings, you can conclude that they are doing the wrong thing while they are in a meeting.


Although it’s true that senior executives spend much of their time in meetings, you can bet that a business is in trouble if their meetings are out of control.


Top executives should use meetings to develop, review, and revise strategy. If they spend their time just talking about stuff, then they are goofing off on the job.


Since bad meetings are so wasteful, you may wonder why anyone tolerates them. Unfortunately, many business leaders think that their meetings are just fine. They even believe that they’re experts at holding effective meetings.


For example, when I phone companies to ask if they would be interested in improving their meetings, I sometimes encounter an assistant who assures me that the executives believe that they hold wonderful meetings. Then the assistant snickers, coughs softly, and regains enough composure to state that they don’t need my services. At this point the assistant sounds like someone on a sinking ship who is throwing a life jacket into the water.


And that must make you wonder: why would any intelligent person hold a meeting that wastes everyone’s time and produces nothing.


There are easy answers such as 1) they don’t know that their meetings could be effective, 2) they don’t know what an effective meeting is like, or 3) they don’t know how to hold an effective meeting.


But what about the rest of them? That is, what about all of the executives who know how to plan and organize and run an effective business, but still hold bad meetings?


Let’s dig deeper. These executives actually want to hold bad meetings because they prove to be useful. Here’s how.


1) They provide refuge.

Bad meetings provide a sophisticated form of executive busyness. Some people find this useful because it keeps them from having to work on difficult tasks such as planning, coaching, learning, and communicating. Compared to these difficult tasks, sitting in a conference room is easy. In fact, it is so easy that a six-year old could do it, assuming you could convince the child to stay inside for such a pointless activity.


Better: An effective meeting is business activity where people work together.


2) They avoid responsibility.

Bad meetings never end with decisions, which means that no one ends up being held responsible for doing anything. Some people find this useful because responsibility implies accountability and accountability requires results. Thus, without responsibility there is no failure and everyone appears to perform well. This masks poor performance so that everyone continues to receive raises and promotions, even when they accomplish nothing because (you guessed it) they spent all of their time sitting in meetings.


Better: Effective meetings produce decisions that someone is responsible for implementing.


3) They provide excitement.

Bad meetings feature all of the elements of a good drama, such as conflict, tension, and pain. For example, the participants deliver self-aggrandizing reports, denigrate their colleagues, and engage in politics. Some really terrible meetings play out like pathetic battlegrounds with verbal gladiators battling for favors while the boss watches.


Better: Effective meetings occur in a safe environment of respect.


4) They serve food.

Bad meetings become an enviable executive perk when they provide snacks, coffee, and (sometimes) meals. The attendees then use eating to offset the boredom of having to hear meaningless discussions. It also saves them the expense of having to buy food.


Better: Meals should be a separate activity used to build relationships and (sometimes) rest.


5) They entertain.

Bad meetings resemble a party. People tell stories, trade jokes, and argue over trivia. Some meetings feature comedy performances by the office fool. Others feature humorous belittlements by the office bully. And if neither of these occurs, the absolutely unbelievable discussions amaze and entertain everyone.


Better: Effective meetings use process tools to make methodical progress toward results.


All of this shows why the type of meetings held in a company should be of major concern when making investment decisions. If the executives need to learn how, that can be fixed by scheduling a workshop. Then you might consider investing in the company, after they complete the workshop. If, however, the executives hold bad meetings to avoid fundamental leadership responsibilities, you should seek other investments.


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