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I work for a manager that is very fond of meetings. The problem is, however, that more than half of these meetings are both unnecessary and wasteful.

For example, we have a regularly scheduled meeting that has become so useless and pointless that our manager has begun to volun-order people to give an arbitrary presentation. For the most part, these presentations consist of talks about projects that no one else in the team will ever work on or care about. Those few that do end up working on these projects are not helped by these presentations, since they’re too short and high level.

How does one make the most of wasteful meetings to actually make them useful?

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5 Answers 5

Everything is an opportunity to learn, the more you learn about management and co-workers the more you can connect or communicate with them. Even if something does not necessarily apply to you today, you could be promoted or moved to a different project and it might be applicable to what you are doing.

I always act interested at work even when things don't apply to me and I strive to learn and understand what other people are faced with on a daily basis, it makes me flexible and useful. I sucked up everything no matter how trivial others thought it was.

The company I work for is big on training management and people who are on the path to management that you should refine processes, not to react. Think to yourself, how can I refine the process of these meetings that seem to be useless to me?

My advice in the short term, is find a presentation that would actually be useful and matter, write up a outline and ask to give the presentation. Show everyone that they can be useful. Think refining processes when you're doing this. What would make the meetings shorter and more effective? Would more or less visual aids be useful? Thinks like that, then take the time to figure out how to preempt those areas of 'wasted time'.

Sources: I was promoted from the lowest possible position to running half of a multi-million dollar operation in my state region for a fortune 500 company, after working there for 5 weeks.

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It sounds like it's worth a talk with the manager - why is he so fond of meetings? Is there some sort of collaboration that he's trying to inspire? Does he see a problem or specific need that these meetings are trying to address?

In a perfect world, figuring out when NOT to have a meeting would be as much a manager's job as telling people to have meetings in the first place - but the fear of something being missed from the lack of a meeting usually outweighs the guilt of having useless meetings. In the end, the discussion is usually easiest to center around cost vs. value (something managers usually love).

Cost of a meeting

Is actually REALLY easy to determine:

Cost in hours = # of people X length of meeting (in hours)

(or - multiply by average labor rate, if you want dollars not hours)

As a really bare bones metric. Example - 5 people meet for 1 hour - the meeting is 5 hours of cost, or half a man-day. If it helped everyone save a day of non-productive work, it was a huge win. If it helped 1 guy save 2 hours, it was a loss.

Sometimes, for more sophisticated metrics, you may factor in prep time - like for a presentation, or a peer review.

Cost in hours = (# of people X length of meeting) + sum of prep time for each person

Note - it's usually a bad idea to take a guess on how much each person prepares. Also, the meeting type makes a difference. A presentaton is presenter-time heavy, and easy for everyone else. A peer review requires all reviewers to do a certain minimum prep work - if people all hit a good similar range, you'll have a good discussion, if not, one heavy reviewer in a sea of underacheivers will skew the value of the meeting wildly.

Benefit of the Meeting

Meetings are going to have different goals. Critical to any meeting is to actually meet the desired outcome. I have a laundry of list of types of meetings, but in general you need to figure out what the meeting is supposed to accomplish, whether the right people to accomplish it are actually there (or even invited) and then whether or not they can actually reach the goal in a reasonable amount time.

When that fails, the answer is not "more meetings" - but to fix what's actually wrong, and that usually happens outside of any meeting, because more often than not, the opinions and thoughts and perceptions of the people in the room are restricting what gets discussed and inhibits conclusions, and that won't get fixed by getting that same group together another time.

Meeting Expiration

Almost every meeting needs a periodic review - some projects are short enough that killing the meeting when you finish the project is a natural way to let it expire. But standing meetings can be particularly trecherous. I'd suggest that instead of saying "when can we kill this lame meeting?" you say "how often should we assess it's effectiveness and what is the process for correcting any problems?"

Not every meeting goes away - but they should always be morphing to meet the needs of the people who attend. So while you may not kill a meeting, you may end up morphing it so much that it hardly resembles a meeting any more.

Reduce Pain, Fix problems

Lastly, it can often be easier (and more face saving for the manager) if you suggest ways to either "aggregate" meetings (how about we eliminate arbitrary presentation day, and use the first 10 minutes of the status meeting for a random deep dive into a hot topic? two meetings for the price of 1!!), or you suggest using existing meetings to fix actual problems. For example, in a development team - a meeting about keeping in sync with design work may drift into a meeting about the build process, which may drift into a meeting about hot topics in bug fix. As long as the agenda and the attendees change to fit the current needs of the team and it's solving a real problem - then who cares if it's the same day and time?

One of my most successful "status" meetings was not actually about detailed status - it was about the three managers on the team working out the big issues for the day and our manager to have a guaranteed place to make sure that hot issues got concentrated attention.

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Are you sure your boss is the wrong-way driver?

If your fellow colleagues have the same feelings about those meetings, you might be right. And if so, it's unfair to leave him uninformed while everyone is laughing at him (at best), or everyone is getting frustrated (at worst).

Foremost, this is a communication issue: You (and maybe your coworkers) as your boss's subordinate don't have a clue why your boss holds these meetings. So he's in charge to explain. If he doesn't know that you're in need of guidance, request it from him.

  • If he's got good reasons, he'll explain them to you (if he can). If you disagree with his reasoning, tell him in a constructive way and point out your reasons. At times, he will have to play the boss card. Accept that, but agree a timeframe after which both of you review the situation with the insights both of you gain until then.
  • If he doesn't have good reasons, depending on his personality, he will tell you or you'll notice otherwise. In any case, don't put pressure on him at first. Rather, give him the opportunity to take your feedback and come up with a decision. Raise the issue again periodically (increasing the pressure) until the situation changes.

Applied to your situation,

  • good reasons for holding the meeting might be that he wants everyone to improve their presentation skills.
  • good reasons might be political - he might need to demonstrate support for some people's work (by giving them a large audience). He might not be able to tell you this, though, so you have to read between the lines.
  • A bad reason would be he thinks he ought to do the meetings because every other manager does.
  • Another bad reason might be he thinks everyone expects the meetings to be held to demonstrate his leadership.
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Surely something can be brought up that has interest to all parties. I'm not sure how big your company is, but judging by the statement that other people are giving presentations on different projects that can in no way help others by knowing that aren't on the project, I'd say it's fairly large.

Perhaps you could try speaking with your boss and maybe scheduling for special guests to come to the meetings. A director, manager, or technical lead from another department that can come in and speak to you about what their department does, how it affects your department, etc may be boring...but it gives one valuable thing. Face-time.

In larger companies face-time with departments/people you don't know may prove to be that of a chaos theory and have your name whispered in another's ear, resulting in a promotion, or raise, or just better standing all around.

So for my suggestion, use it to learn more about your colleagues or people from other departments to sell yourself and your skills.

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Are you actually suggesting that the OP tell his boss that his meetings are useless? I am tempted to get you a +1 for the chutzpah. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Nov 16 '12 at 21:40
    
@Chad No, I suggesting that the OP suggest different avenues that the meetings can take. It would make him look interested in the meetings to begin with, for the sake of his boss' comfort and perhaps allow the meetings to be more vibrant for the OP and save him from his misery. –  cloyd800 Nov 17 '12 at 2:56

The presenter should hand out the outline at least a day before the meeting. Someone should ask a question that goes deeper and is of some use. How are you going to do ...?

You can't get away with it all the time, but find a task that your boss thinks is important to get done on time and ask if you can work on it during the meeting. The risk of a failed deadline tends to motivate managers.

Identify a valuable question, email or situation that occured and ask to discuss during the meeting or just take the opportunity to informally bind as a group. Save some of the water cooler, coffee break chit-chat for the meeting. Normally, this would be a little rude to interupt the presenters, but I don't think they'll mind if they feel the same way you do.

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