Meetings? Why do we dislike them so much? What is a “good meeting” like?

Wikipedia defines “meeting”:

“when two or more people come together to discuss one or more topics … for the purpose of achieving a common goal through verbal interaction, such as sharing information or reaching agreement …. [by actual face to face or via digital conferencing.] One Miriam-Webster dictionary defines meeting as ‘an act or process of coming together’….”

I hear people express displeasure at having to attend meetings, but appear to mostly accept their inevitability.

Why do we dislike meetings so much?

  1. There are too many of them. They keep us from actually getting anything done. People confuse “meeting” with actual “ministry” (in my profession.)
  2. They are so inefficient in time usage.
  3. It is so uncomfortable to watch some attendees:
    • monopolize the meeting
    • come to the meeting unprepared
    • are more interested in their personal agenda than in the success of the group or the good of the whole
  4. That pervasive feeling afterwards of what a waste of time it was. (“There’s 60/90/120 minutes of my life that will never be recovered!”)

What are the characteristics of a GOOD MEETING?

I arrived at these characteristics by reflecting on worship committee meetings I used to lead. The format was simple. The scriptures for 4-6 Sundays (2 months away) were given to the participants in advance. The group met twice in one month, for 90 minutes each meeting, to come up with (1) a worship theme for the 4-6 week time period, (2) specific sermon theme sentences, and (3) ways to elucidate/present that specific them each week. The first meeting was almost always chaotic – “popcorning” of ideas. All were recorded and given to the members in written form, shortly after the conclusion of that first meeting. Everyone returned to the second meeting two weeks later, and, somehow, the end result was always reached after 90 minutes. I LOVED these meetings (and I for the most part dislike meetings.) I think everyone else did as well. Why?

  1. Committee membership is self-nominated. No one is there who does not want to be there voluntarily.
  2. The purpose of the meeting is very clear in advance. The end product is not known by anyone in advance.
  3. The purpose has a history of being met. Success is assumed, based upon experience.
  4. The 90 minute time limit is always kept.
  5. There is never any individual competitiveness. There is no “me” versus anyone else. There is no “pride of authorship/ownership.”
  6. Success is recognized as necessarily resulting from mutual collaboration. i.e. Everyone believes that the success depends upon collaboration; it simply can not be done without true sharing and listening.
  7. No one’s idea is ever demeaned, and yet everyone is interested in achieving the best overall result.
  8. Although there is a leader (to facilitate and take notes) there is total equality of authority. No one has a veto. (Oh, I suppose as senior pastor, I had an inherent power to veto, but in all the years we did these meetings, that was never done. The collaborative creativity was better than any single person’s ability, including mine. I learned a lot from that!)

I understand that those kinds of factors cannot be adopted realistically for every type of meeting. When they cannot, is there an alternative mechanism for accomplishing the goal?

I also understand that sometimes the real purpose of a meeting is not the stated goal.  e.g. the real purpose of the meeting might be:

  1. team building
  2. trying to identify people who are desired for leadership in the organization, based on how they act in a meeting:
    • being real team players, more interested in the group than in personal success
    • creativity
    • listening skills
    • not domineering nor need-control people
    • diplomatic
    • empowering, rather than overpowering
    • OR the reverse of all those characteristics, if that is your notion of good leadership

There is also the type of meeting in which the leader (whether in the leader’s chair or not) merely wants to be able to inform and convince others of the beneficence of their pre-ordained plan, and in which that leader feels a deep need to control the outcome and the process. I believe that these types of meeting are the ones that most people (except that leader) really hate to attend, and do so only upon pain of some punishment, and really have no desire to participate, due to their perception of the futility of trying.

I recently heard about an alternative meeting format, which fascinates me, although I’ve not participated in it. It would not work for the collaborative creativity, where a certain time for percolation is required. But it might work for other types of meeting purpose, e.g. exchange of information. I’d love to hear of folks’ experience with such a meeting:

It’s a FIVE MINUTE meeting in which all the participants STAND throughout.
(You can read the linked Wall Street Journal article for more information.)

These are my musings on meetings at this point. Your thoughts?