Just off to a meeting? Stop right now. Turn back. You will be stuck in an overheated room, chained to a table for an absurd length of time and stopped from doing “proper” work.
Now, let me make myself clear. There is a time and a place for getting together, talking face-to-face and making decisions all in one place, either virtually or physically. But the weekly “meeting because we’ve always had a meeting”, meeting can just take a running jump!
Speaking as I can about Local Government, meetings really are a viable alternative to getting any work done. All the revolutions of the internet – Skype, Facebook, et al. – have not diminished the craving to gather in a tedious conclave. Senior Managers, ruthless with regards to workplace productivity, are careless with their own time. Meetings seem to be the cocaine rush of the corporation. I know there are scores of senior people in all kinds of government departments who are so high on the stuff that they spend the entire day in meetings, and return home with no one any the wiser, except those who pay their salaries.
There’s no proof that organisations benefit from the endless cycle of these charades, but they can’t stop it. They’re addicted.
It is half a century since C Northcote Parkinson first addressed the meeting as social anthropology, yielding his celebrated “coefficient of inefficiency”. It calculated that a meeting of just five people was “most likely to act with competence, secrecy and speed”. Few such bodies exist because five swiftly expands to nine: and two of the nine tend to be “merely ornamental”, people whom no one has the heart to exclude.
Above nine, said Parkinson, “the organism begins to perish”. Once the meeting reaches 20 people, it may as well go on to 100, since by then most of those present are not contributing. They are spectating, talking to each other, squabbling or forming lobbies. Nowadays, many are peering at their phones or tablets – pretending to take notes, or frantic not to fall asleep. All are praying for “any other business”.
A development of the Parkinson efficiency rule, where “the efficiency of a meeting is inversely proportional to the number of people attending”, more accurately defines their impact. Thus maximum efficiency (100%) is achieved with only one person in the meeting (yourself) and the ultimate efficiency (nirvana) is a meeting with no attendees (i.e. when nobody even thinks of holding a meeting).
A recent study by Microsoft, America Online and Salary.com found that the average person works only three days a week. The rest of the working time was regarded as wasted, with “unproductive meetings” heading the list. Workers on average regard a third of any meetings as pointless.
So, with all that in mind, enjoy your meeting.