Peter Drucker said, “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer the meetings the better”

By | July 10, 2014

This is my calendar from a recent week. Granted some of these were client interviews, but needless to say, the real work and thinking was done between meetings, or at night at the hotel.  The time before and after the meeting were also “wasted” because I was either walking to, waiting for, or late for another meeting.

Week of Meetings and calls

Peter Drucker said it best, “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization.  The fewer meetings the better.”  I cannot agree with this statement enough.

Meetings are often a waste of time. There are often TOO many people invited, for TOO long of a time, covering TOO little content, with TOO little accountability.

It is a ripple effect. One company discovered that a weekly executive meeting was consuming 300,000 hours of time annually because of the trickle down effect. 1 weekly meeting took up 7,000 hours (headcount x hours x weeks). However, that forced 11 unit meetings (20,000 hours), forced  21 team meetings (63,000 hours) and forced 130 preparatory meetings (210,000 hours) in a chain reaction. HBR article here.

Meetings are often disrespectful. I have been invited to many meetings where the presenter is “holding court”, essentially walking through their agenda, and essentially holding the audience hostage.  Bad form, disrespectful, and a bit sad.

In my mind, the person calling the meeting should invest at least 10-20x the effort to accomplish the goals of the meeting ahead of time without calling the meeting. Do the work ahead of time. You have to earn the right to call a meeting.

If you want to get input on an idea, project, proposal, or initiative. . . do the research, put together a persuasive powerpoint, walk the halls and talk to the right people, send out an email to get feedback, get buy-in, and start doing the work. Once it has momentum, get the right funding and resources in place and call the kick-off meeting.

Meetings are poorly run. Some people are better than others, but some meetings have no agenda, no facilitation, no sense of on-time start, on-time end, or meeting minutes. In consulting world, that is unacceptable. Time = money. As some of us like to quip, “That is an hour of my life that I will never get back.”

Meetings are indiscriminate. We all get invited to meetings once in a while when we wonder. . . “why was I invited?”  I don’t know anything about that.

Frankly, if you are not contributing to the meeting (have a speaking or deciding role), you don’t need to be there. You can get the meeting minutes, or run-down from someone afterwards. Whenever I decide to NOT accept a meeting invite, and discover that the meeting was unproductive and blah, I consider it a huge win.

Meetings are band-aids. Too often, meetings are the only way things get done within a company.  Without meetings, people don’t know what to do, how to do it, and are afraid to take action. It creates limited forward progress, and yet, they are need because some progress is better than none. It is often a manual solution to a systemic problem. It does not solve the root cause of the problem.

Meetings reduce leverage. People get stacked on top of each other, observing, commenting, and group-thinking answers. Have been in meetings where there is a VP, Director, Manager, and Analyst from the same department. Hmm, not efficient.

Meetings are inevitable. I am not so Pollyanna that I believe meetings can be abolished.  In fact, it is how most organizations function.  They use meetings to push things along, generate momentum, and gain consensus.

Ideally, organizations would have very few meetings because people would know the organization / department / personal mission, collaborate daily, know where to find information and resources, innovate, make mistakes, but organically course-correct within a culture of trust and growth. Sadly, that is rare.

In the same HBR aricle here, research shows that 15% of company time is in meetings. A number that has increased every year since 2008.  In the consulting world where time is money, 15% of your time to meetings is probably unwise, and maybe, unacceptable.

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2 thoughts on “Peter Drucker said, “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer the meetings the better”

  1. Evan

    Excellent insight, and I’d agree. I recently read some decent HBR articles via LinkedIn Pulse that I thought I might share. I feel like even though we’re sitting through a tough meeting, there’s always a way to eek out more benefit by more clearly defining a successful outcome and making people in the meeting accountable for line items that lead to that success. Thoughts?

    http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/how-to-avoid-collaboration-fatigue/

    http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/a-great-negotiators-essential-advice/

    Reply
    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Evan, thanks for the links. Yes, completely agree that there are things that we can make the most of the meetings we host and attend.

      While the post was a bit negative in tone, it was more of a comment on the culture of meetings, and the leadership gap that occurs when bad, ineffective meetings are tolerated.

      Agree completely that we (as individuals) need to be positive, and progressive, and accretive. What can we do to add value, find the white spaces, do more, and enable others. Win-win.

      For leaders and managers, they need to “step-up” and really dig into the root causes of meetings, and free up people to do their work efficiently and effectively. Usually through clearly defined roles/responsibilities, better tools, and a culture of process improvement. Thanks again for reading.

      Reply

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