Important meetings or meetings of important people

The relationship between meetings and effective management is unproven. So why are organisations so wedded to them and why despite our lack of enthusiasm do we continue to view them as necessary? It’s all about status. Who chairs, who attends, who speaks and who records is all about status. Why else would a manager ask who else is attending before deciding whether to commit if this wasn’t more important than the agenda.

Meetings are often claimed to be necessary to share info but the only info shared is what the others want you to know and this isn’t worth knowing. The info shared is designed to enhance the status as in “how good am I “. It’s claimed meetings make decisions  but managers make decisions and use  meetings to inform/explain/impose. Having thus ratified the decision those present are expected to ensure it is implemented but people tend only to implement what they agree with which is why decisions are often conveyed but not so often followed up.

I worked for a national housing association. As a member of the Senior Management Team (SMT) we came together from different parts of the country every two weeks for an all day meeting. We wadded through a mountain of reports, engaged in feverish debate, queered the “facts” and exchanged anecdotes only for those present to ignor any decision they didn’t agree with. But despite feeling it was a waste of time, attending SMT was considered confirmation you were a senior manager. When following a restructuring a colleague was informed they no longer needed to attend SMT unless for a specific agenda item they took this as a demotion despite the fact that their salary and job title remained the same. In fact I got the impression they would have rather have suffered a cut in salary than this loss of status

Ah but meetings are essential in fact we need more of them because the agenda is so full we frequently over run. Management restructurings and budget cuts do generate a lot of discussion. People fight to protect their budget, warn of the dire consequences of staffing reductions and argue for their department/service to be considered a special case. All of which is about protecting the status that goes with big budgets ,large staff groups and a seat next to the Leader/ chief executive.

Blair McPherson author of UnLearning Management and Equipping managers for an uncertain future both published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk

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