I read an editorial by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian this morning about meetings crushing morale and killing productivity. Jenkins’ list of the perils of meetings touches the personal (meetings slow metabolism, lead to diabetes and cancer, and eventually kill you) and the professional (meetings waste cognitive resources, cause organizations to hemorrhage productivity, and eventually kill them). But you’re smart. You’re not intentionally trying to off yourself or your organization. So why do you go to meetings?

It has become popular to disparage meetings of late without allowing testimony from the defence. You need to consider why they are necessary, when they are appropriate, and what role they play in doing your job. It’s time to remember some of the great reasons why you might go to a meeting.

Your job is collaborating with people

I often hear people create a false dichotomy between time spent working and time spent in meetings. For many, time spent with others connecting, envisioning, riffing, challenging, stress-testing, and strengthening IS time spent working. Although creative ideas are best generated with solitary thinking time, those ideas get stronger in collision with other ideas and seen through diverse perspectives. If your job is to innovate, you need to meet.

Your job is managing people

One of the organizational trends I find most disturbing is that managers are acquiring significant responsibilities as individual contributors. Managers swamped by a flood of tasks bemoan the meetings where they are supposed to manage. If you’re a manager, you meet to coordinate, to synchronize, to align around a shared view, to lubricate the collaboration among individuals. If you’re a manager, you need to meet.

You work in a matrix

There was a time when work was organized into stand-alone units where each person in the hierarchy had control over the decisions required to do their job. That time is over. In its place, we have matrix structures, shared services, customer councils, and all manner of other arrangements that entangle decision making authority. In these structures, you meet to share priorities, to negotiate trade-offs, to generate options, to understand implications, and to plan implementations. If you work in a matrix, you need to meet.

You want a strong team

Meetings should be measured on more than just their immediate benefits. If you work on a team that is highly interdependent and reliant on good working relationships, some meetings might simply foster relationships rather than generating outcomes. If you’re trying to strengthen teamwork, you need meetings to strengthen connection, to increase transparency, to build common language, and to create shared experiences. If you want to build a team, you need to meet.

So before you vilify meetings, remember that there are good reasons to meet. There is ample justification for investing time with your co-workers. In the next post, I’ll talk about some of the less virtuous reasons why people meet so you can decide for yourself which meetings you should and shouldn’t be going to.

Further Reading

Wasted Time in Meetings

Are You Meeting at the Wrong Time?

4 Ways to Stimulate Better Discussions