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Bad Meetings or Meeting Badly

By Andy Warren,

Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is away on sabbatical.

Meetings have a bad name in the world of IT. Boring and useless are words often used to describe them. Sometimes the room resorts to buzzword bingo to stay engaged. I wouldn’t go so far as to say all meetings are good, but many are useful – just not always useful to you. Why go to a meeting that isn’t useful for you? We’ll return to that in a moment.

Not long ago I spent a year going to meetings. An average week was 30-35 meetings, easily more than a thousand over the course of a year. I started my day planning for my first meeting, led that meeting, and then went on to many others – some that I led, some where I was an active participant, and others where I was just there to monitor. I learned a lot about meetings.

One of the things I learned is that a meeting can’t always serve everyone. Sometimes a project manager needs you in the room just in case a change elsewhere will impact you – and it could be something that to their ear doesn’t sound like a big deal. If that happens the meeting is useful to you. If not, then…it wasn’t?

That’s the trap meeting organizers fall into. If they invite you ‘just in case’ and you’re not needed, the perception is they have wasted your time. If they don’t invite you and something came up that involved you and your team, you’re frustrated that you weren’t invited. Makes it hard to win.

I’m not saying that there are no bad meetings just that we need to consider why we were invited as part of the evaluation of whether it was good or bad. We might also think about how we would react to not being invited.

A thousand meetings later I like meetings because that is where the interesting stuff happens and because I like collaborating as a team. I’ll suffer bad meetings where I have to, try to call in to the ones where I’m a just in case attendee, and enjoy the knowledge shared at the good ones. Not all meetings are good, but the idea of meetings is good and useful. Don’t become so cynical about meetings that you become an island or an obstacle.

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