Why office meetings are a waste of your time

First published by the New Zealand Herald

Few people leave an office meeting feeling better than when they went in. Still, the number of ‘team’ meetings seem to be on the increase in places of commerce up and down the country – leaving many desk-dwellers with less time to perform the work they were actually hired to do. 

In fact, office meetings not only suck away valuable time; they often lead to an increased workload as attendees typically exit meeting rooms with more on their plate than when they went in.

It seems staff meetings are less about making collective decisions based on the research people were asked to do last week, and more about redistribution of work – most likely because there are fewer people at this week’s meeting than last week’s. 

This unfortunate situation is all down to other people’s meetings. You know; the ones held in ivory towers where the water is served in chilled bottles, there’s an ice bucket (with no ice), and light snacks are shipped in but remain untouched by senior managers (managers dare not indulge for fear of having their mouths stuffed with a filled croissant answering when the CEO pounces on them).

Missing staff

Members of staff, whose names shall not pass our lips, are temporarily remembered thanks to vacant office chairs and desks that are removed outside normal office hours so as no one will notice. There are no official announcements as this might alert others there is slack to be taken up.

Not all are sure what these valued members of staff did before they left the building, but whatever it was – it’s your job now – (at least a part of it) thanks to you turning up to a meeting.

Some people might say you made a mistake by arriving at all. But in truth, the mistake was made when you crossed the threshold of the meeting room early with an A4 notepad turned to a blank page and a pen in your hand – almost begging to be given something extra to do.

The trick to avoid being loaded up with what management like to call ‘additional responsibilities’ is to always arrive at meetings at least 10 minutes after they have started. Thanks to many rooms having glass ‘walls’ you can spy on fellow invitees from a safe distance and see when all the other suckers are fully engaged discussing today’s drama before you breathlessly hot foot it to the office door.

Grand entrance

Your entrance has to be a masterpiece of disruption – as thoughtless as you can make it. Ideally you will walk into the room talking loudly to someone on the phone while making a face in the direction of the boss about the unknown party on the other end of the line. You also need an ego that would impress Donald Trump and for your order of take-away food to arrive (proving to all you that you are too busy to go out for lunch).

To complete your grand entrance you need to carry an armful of dishevelled papers and folders – and no pen (this is crucial). No one would looking at this picture of obvious busy-ness and disorganization would consider you capable of taking on any more tasks. You are a picture of stress and over-commitment; dedicated as you are to the company’s iffy share price.

If you do this well, there will be offers of help because you are clearly overstretched. Of course you gratefully decline while making a mental note the Goody Two-Shoes who volunteered to help – they clearly have capacity to do more. Information that can be used should there be the merest hint of any extra tasks heading in your direction.

With wide eyes and an Oscar-winning smile repeat after me: “That’s a great idea, I’d love to work on that really interesting project, I’m so excited, but I think Goody Two-Shoes is better placed for this one – you can take it on can’t you.”

Dithering managers

There are those who feel meetings are called by managers who don’t quite know what they are doing or lack the big boy trousers to put a stake in the ground all by themselves. So rather than make a decision on any given matter; such as the theme of this year’s Christmas party (because God knows there has to be a theme) they call a meeting. 

Having a meeting is like calling in outside advisors. You know, the independent ones that get CEOs off the hook – they are not paid to make decisions, they are paid to take the fall if the decision is wrong.

Therefore, having a meeting ensures any decision is not entirely the manager’s and so responsibility can be devolved to some poor unsuspecting Goody Two-Shoes who was really pleased to actually be invited to a meeting at all.

All joking aside; 90 per cent of all office meetings are probably unnecessary. If a manager simply wants to assign some extra task to a member of their team – why involve everyone else. Just ask your target if they can help.

If there is something big to be discussed, send out an agenda so people attending have a clear clue as to why they will have to stop work to attend. They might even email back with a solution so the meeting can be cancelled. 

If the meeting goes ahead, have someone take minutes that can be sent to all and sundry to establish in black & white what was discussed and agreed, and who is doing what and by when.

Bottom line; meetings should not be a knee jerk response to every decision managers need to make. Perhaps managers just need to back themselves more often and let their staff get on with their jobs.