16 November 2010

If your meetings are compelling, useful and effective, don’t read this blog post

In years and years of practice in internal communications I have met so many people who hate meetings. Just look at the faces of most people in a larger meeting. Or listen to people complaining about the fact that their day is fully planned with meetings, keeping them from ‘work’.

Meetings often don’t start on time and don’t end on time. Very often it is unclear what is decided. Action points are not followed up. The meeting is dominated by just a few people (the loudest, not the smartest). We often tend to start discussions without a clue of what the goal of the agenda point is, and there are quite a few meetings that don’t have an agenda at all.

I have asked this question time and time again, to employees in a wide variety of businesses: “How much time do you spend in meetings?” The average number, for office workers, is 30%. Then, when I ask them if they received any training in meeting skills, the usual answer is: none at all; in college, nor at work.

So, we spend 30% of our time doing something that we were never trained to do. This fact never fails to amaze me, and I think it is a hidden problem in many organizations. In my opinion, we internal communicators should tackle this problem. For years now I have been conducting meeting workshops, and people love them. I teach them how to prepare a meeting, how to ensure that everybody can contribute, techniques to keep time and  techniques to ensure that the meeting members stick to the goal of the agendapoint. I add some background about group dynamics and I stress the importance of following up on what was decided. Basic stuff, but everybody loves it.

For me, in my role as manager internal communications, this is probably one of the best contributions I can make to improve efficiency in our organization. People often tell me that they saved hours and hours of time as a result of the workshop.

This could be a Dutch problem, though, as we are consensus seekers by nature. I am curious about that: is it? Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and experiences with me.


  1. I agree, many meetings could be more efficient. But a meeting is part of work, if you think a meeting is keeping you from your work, you probably should not be in the meeting at all.

    But I recognise the situation very well. I have been in many meetings where I stayed because I thought it was impolite to leave.

    What I often like is inviting (or dialing in) participants per agenda item. You can listen, speak and discuss the things that matter to you or to your work. And you can leave when you're not interested in the other parts and continue with other work.

  2. Interesting! Something that I will definitely going to discuss in our internal microblogging system. I am curious if they see a need for these trainings but also how much time they spend on meetings.

  3. Thanks for the comments Bas and Dennis. Indeed,Bas, why should we have to stay during agendapoints that don't matter to us at all? And the fact that people refer to a meeting as keeping them from work only shows that these meetings are often not relevant to many participants. Dennis, please keep me updated, I am curious to know the outcome of the discussion

  4. Nice post, Jan. Another thing most of us have not learned to do, just like being a knowledge worker...

  5. Thanks Samuel, I should stop writing about all these skills that we miss now, I guess. I hope the point is made.