Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Meetings, bloody meetings

I noticed the heading of blog post a few days ago: "10 Ways to Get out of Meetings". I didn’t read it, but suspect it was popular. Too many meetings are less productive than they should be.

Instead of trying to avoid meetings, though, how about figuring out how to make meetings more useful, and more effective? After all, two or three or four heads are always better than one. It’s just that it takes a little effort to get a meeting to work well. When creativity and problem solving start to work in a co-operative way, meetings are worth their weight in gold.

So, with reference to John Cleese’s excellent film “Meetings Bloody Meetings” here are 10 ways to get more out of meetings:
  1. Prepare in advance (Is the meeting necessary? Who should attend? What is already known? Are sensitive issues being discussed that merit face to face discussion, etc, etc)
  2. Set clear meeting objectives
  3. Have an agreed agenda
  4. Make sure everyone is invited who needs to be there, and that they have the opportunity to give their input during the meeting
  5. Give people time to prepare in advance (with sight of relevant information)
  6. Ensure everyone is working from the same documentation (up to date agenda, budgets, documents, etc)
  7. Keep to time (start, finish, take individual items off-line if they are taking too much time)
  8. Record decisions and key points in the minutes
  9. Follow-up after the meeting
  10. Use a collaboration tool to keep everything together rather than relying on email (it provides structure and reduces the risk of missing things): Dates, times, attendees, objectives, the agenda, additional documents, minutes

It isn’t rocket science, but it is almost always more work than we first reckon. If that means having fewer, but better, meetings that would likely suit everyone. Including whoever is trying to get things done.

My very old copy of John Cleese’s book “How to Run a Meeting” always brings a smile to my face. Cleese’s eyes are raised skywards in sympathy in frustration at yet another unnecessary, unproductive and unbelievably long meeting.

Collaboration and knowledge-sharing is much more of a framework than it was in the 1970’s where the emphasis was on controlling meetings. Yet the dangers of rambling, unfocused discussion is as great today as it was then. So Cleese’s 1976 book stays on my bookshelf, alongside my 2010 collaboration software.


  1. michael Dempsey7 August 2010 at 12:23

    I am not one of those people who is contemptuous of the public sector. I haave the greatest respect for public servants. And meetings are necessary to bring on board stakeholders. But there are too many of them. It is so much more difficult to manage if you are in meetings all the time. That was my experience not only in the public sector but also working in a trade union, the commonalty of which was the democratic structure. Looking at it from outside, now, I do hope modern communications technology has reduced the need for so many meetings.

  2. Hi Mike

    I somehow think meetings will always be needed. What I hope for is that we will get better outcomes and more productive meetings through better preparation. I've mostly worked with the private sector, and have limited experience of public sector meetings, but I suspect both could benefit from a new way.

  3. great post, am your right, bloody meetings, i am yet to meet someone who likes meetings. i suggest organizations should adopt the meeting collaboration tools/ software. that has proven to be very productive. but in what ever way people choose, preparation is key coz is is Scarce.

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