Adjourn useless meeting forever!

publication date: Apr 16, 2012

Most meetings lack purpose, energy and brevity, says Al Pittampalli, who describes himself as a "meeting culture warrior." As a business tool, "It's fundamentally broken." That means organizations can't afford to run meetings in the way that used to work.

For a long time, he told attendees at the international conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Vancouver, April 1-3), meetings had two purposes: making decisions and communicating information.

Who decided that anyway?

But meetings diffuse responsibility, he points out. "My decision" becomes "our decision." The bystander effect sets in, and no individual sees himself as responsible. That's why 50 bystanders can see a petty crime and nobody calls the police. Meetings drive compromise, which means that risky or bold solutions don't stand a chance. And they allow people to stall on decisions.

In short, he says, meetings are "where you hide when you don't want to make a decision." Speed and innovation don't come from meetings. Organizations innovate when champions step out and do it.

No longer effective for communication

Seventy years ago, he continues, meetings were a practical tool for communication. You had to pull people off the factory floor to tell them something. But now that the online world has made asynchronous communication possible, we don't need the delay of waiting until all parties can engage simultaneously.

So who needs meetings?

We do - but a very different kind of meeting. Pittampalli believes the modern meeting is a coordination tool. It allows the robust debate that can't happen by email. We might need planning and launch meetings, for example, but we don't need meetings for status updates.

In short, meetings are for coordination, not communication. They support previously-made decisions by resolving conflict, setting up complex collaborations, inviting only the people who are critical to the outcome, and producing committed action plans.

"In a world without any meetings, what would you have to do? That's the real work," he concludes.

It's also a very different kind of meeting.

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