The Joy of Meetings
08 January 2016 -
Fed up of meetings that never get anything done? David Wethey may have the answer with his new form of super meeting: the latest in a series leading up to the announcement of the 2016 Management Book of the Year
By 2016 CMI Management Book of the Year shortlisted author David Wethey
The two words don’t sit easily together, at least in a business context. There is so much to criticise in the way meetings have taken over our lives – and not in a good way.
I set out to analyse the meetings phenomenon, and to spell out what I believe has gone wrong, and why. I look at the statistics on how much time and money is wasted in bad meetings, or in the unproductive parts of decent ones. I look at the role of companies and organisations in allowing up to half the working lives of their best people to be sacrificed to largely ineffective and inefficient spells sitting around one conference table or another. I look at the collateral damage to the lives and careers of us all.
I also examine the way in which meeting participants (yes that’s us again, I’m afraid) have contributed to bad meetings by unhelpful behaviour and etiquette.
But this is an optimistic book, a positive book, and a practical book.
The discovery of Mote – a fundamentally better way of managing and participating in meetings – should be good news for the vast majority of us who like mixing with our colleagues, and want to work collaboratively and successfully with them.
This is a book for companies. It is a book for the managers in those organisations responsible for organising and running meetings. And if you are one of the millions of us whose job requires you to be in meetings every day, it is also very much a book for you.
We are the gregarious majority, I believe. I hope we are also the ambitious tendency in terms of not just wanting to correct what’s wrong with meetings, but also to put something in its place, which is not just better practice and more productive, but actually satisfying and, yes, enjoyable.
Perhaps joy in meeting is not such a pie in the sky idea after all! Mote is not just a better meeting, a super meeting even - it’s actually a great way for us all to work together. Psychologists tell us that nearly everything we enjoy doing, we do better.
We can’t go on meeting like this
This book has a lot to do with all the thousands of meetings I have attended.
Meetings are the way the modern business world has chosen to work together. But they are deeply flawed. There are far too many meetings. There are too many people in meetings, and they frequently run back to back.
Two meetings in a row, and you waste the second half of the first one worrying about the next one. Three in a row, and you’ll forget everything about the first two, quite apart from being mentally drained in the third one.
Just look at how meeting rooms are always overbooked, and meetings overflow into canteens and rest areas.
What is less well understood is the damage they do to the quality of our lives. Ask anyone, “Are you busy?”, and it’s odds on the reply will be “Yes, very busy”, with a furrowing of the brows.
No wonder – if you spend at least a third of your working day in meetings, it’s highly probable that the only way you can get your work done is to start early before the conference rooms fill up, work into the evening, and make up the slack at weekends.
It is estimated that senior managers and executives spend 550 hours a year in meetings – nearly four complete working months! £50bn is the estimate of the cost to the UK economy of time squandered in meetings every year. That is more than the defence budget, and more than the central education budget.
I believe that we all need to understand the extent of the problem, why things go wrong, and what we can do about the situation. It is important to help both companies and individuals become much more professional meeting organisers and participants.
We all need an innovative style of meeting – a Super Meeting
Meetings are vital. How else can 21st century men and women work and do business together? I am so convinced the way we do meetings now is a disaster that I set out to design a new meeting system.
It isn’t just that the meetings we are used to are basically inefficient. Do a meeting survey in any organisation, and you’ll get broadly the same feedback. They don’t achieve much. They don’t change things. They are not transformatory.
I call my ‘Super Meeting’ a Mote. It’s a new kind of dynamic meeting specifically designed to help organisations drive change, solve problems, realise opportunities, bring projects to fruition and enable successful decisions.
It isn’t enough to fiddle around the edges of the meeting. The world needs not just a better meeting. It needs something better than a meeting. Simply deconstructing and reconstructing will not do. We have to invent a new way of getting together in organisations – particularly when there are decisions to be made.
I called it a Mote to distinguish these new meetings from the conventional type of meeting that doesn’t work very well.
I did some research into the word ‘meeting’ and how it translates in different languages. Mote came into English via Old English and North Saxon. Interestingly Norwegian and Danish still use a variant of Mote. As with the words for ‘meeting’ used by the Greeks and Romans, Mote also means the place where the meeting is held. The word signified assembly or court.
A Mote is my word for a turbocharged meeting dedicated to driving a project or making a decision.
Mote is a streamlined system and process for running more effective meetings. It is based on my belief that small meetings are far more effective than big ones, and on the principle that meetings need to be a team game.
A series of Motes will lead to great decisions, take ambitious projects to fulfilment, and manage transformational change. A Mote is led by a Leader (not a chairperson), and managed by a new breed of meeting professional, called a Navigator. The carefully selected team in the room are Moters, and the guys on video or telephone link are Remoters.
Moters and Remoters are selected on the Stepladder principle to keep Motes agile and lean. When we Mote, we work not to a rambling agenda, but to a highly focused Motion.
Mote is an innovation designed to combat the problem head-on and provide an opportunity to transform the way we meet and work together.
It has been designed for people, for you, for me, and for any of us who needs to think together and work together.
People damage meetings too
The mind-blowing cost of the time we all waste in meetings is not just a function of poor meeting culture. Let us be honest. People damage meetings just as much as meetings damage people.
Meet this Rogues’ Gallery of meeting wreckers.
You’ll recognise several of them from a conference room near you. Who knows, you may even admit that one of the caricatures is a bit like you on a bad day!
Mainly concerned with him/herself. Conceited, arrogant, self-centred and self-serving. Not collegiate.
Beyond devil’s advocacy into negative behaviour, thinking and comments.
A fully-fledged meeting wrecker. Completely counterproductive. Exclude from meetings if possible.
Dominating. Forceful. Macho. Alpha. Inclined to take meetings where he/she wants to go, even if others don’t. Taking over a meeting is time-wasting as well as irritating.
Interrupts and overtalks continually. It is a habit many people develop to try and attract attention.
Prone to side conversations and asides to the detriment of the flow of the meeting.
Connected not to the meeting but to everything else: mobile network, internet. On one or more screens, texting, emailing.
‘Here’s what we must agree on’. Based on the leader’s view, with no justification except for ‘because I say so’.
A very little key will open a very heavy door
There are practical suggestions on the attitudes and behaviours which will make a big difference, so that the Mote experience will work not just for you, but for everyone involved.
“A very little key will open a very heavy door” is a quotation from a Charles Dickens story called ‘Hunted Down’. The heavy door is success and achievement. The key is getting people to like you and work with you.
For me Mote is obviously a process solution, but it is far more than that. Virtually all the world’s religions are based on the so-called Golden Rule – ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’.
Mote is about empathy and collaboration. It is about being a team. It is about behaving well and considerately as well as efficiently and productively. It is about how the decision is made as much as the decision itself.
The essentials of Mote technique and values will work in all meetings.
More important still, the Mote philosophy – the Spirit of Mote, as I describe it – will materially improve the way organisations work and people work in and with these organisations. I hope that Mote will become a guiding principle for all workplace behaviour.
The book is about the Mote, what benefits it brings, and how organisations and individuals can embrace Mote.
Mote has been designed to make meetings work better. But also to encourage civilised behaviour, and a more civilised life.
As Peter Mead, the joint founder of the UK’s biggest ad agency, says, ‘When in doubt, be nice’.
Mote: The Super Meeting by David Wethey is shortlisted in the Commuter’s Read category of the 2016 CMI Management Book of the Year, in association with the British Library and sponsored by Henley Business School
Mote is available from Amazon and all good booksellers as well as Urbane Publications
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