Bored of meetings? Here’s how to change them

Are you exhausted as you enter the festive period? Have you spent December trying to handle a stampede of work and home duties? David Wethey believes part of the problem of long hours in the office is due to too many meetings that are too long and not effective.

His book, Mote, the super meeting, which has been shortlisted for the Chartered Management Institute Management Book of the Year award 2016, sets out the problem and calls for a new meeting regime. He says wasted time in meetings may be costing the UK economy around £50bn a year. It is estimated that the average office worker spends 16 hours in meetings a week – and that senior managers spend even more.

Wethey says: “Companies need fewer, better meetings, and that can only be achieved if we all rethink our attitude to meetings.”

This includes conference calls, which he says are “all output” and no listening, apart from the passive and grudging kind.

The main problems of meetings are too many people, too many items on the agenda, poor leadership, loud voices dominating, too much confrontational behaviour and no or few outcomes. His main target is strategic meetings involving multiple stakeholders, although he says other types of meetings, from briefings to team meetings, could be managed better. Perhaps, he speculates, senior leaders are too tired and busy to improve things.

Wethey blames open plan offices in part for the increase in meetings [people may have in the past solved issues by having more informal chats with managers in their offices] and says behaviour in meetings may have deteriorated due to people’s growing reluctance to relate to each other on a face to face basis and over-reliance on texting or email as well as to confrontational styles in the media. Among poor behaviour he lists are showing up late, bringing extra people along, going off topic and dialling in from a noisy place which distracts everyone else.

Wethey puts forward his alternative, the Mote – “not just a better meeting, but something better than a meeting”, he says.

Preparation precedes the Mote. Wethey says that too often there is little or no planning before meetings. “Ideas and plans come before meetings, not out of them,” he says. Meetings should be focused. There is no point in busyness for the sake of busyness, he says. “The greatest problem for business people today is being time-poor. Meetings are a significant contributor to time poverty.”

Motes start small with no more than four people, one of whom is the leader, responsible for outcomes and delivery, supported by a navigator. Wethey says the interplay between the navigator and leader is key and he has tips for how to manage a mote effectively.

Gradually this dynamic duo invite experts to join and keep stakeholders who are not present in the loop. Each subsequent Mote has an agenda. There are five key principles of the Mote, says Wethey – game plan, with the emphasis on planning and the leader as driver of growth and change; a small agile team; the stepladder, the process of adding in experts one at a time and then letting them go when they have made their contribution; performance, the focus on outcomes and decisions; and spirit of Mote, the philosophy of collaboration over confrontation.

The emphasis is on emotional intelligence and empathy rather than a negative, adversarial approach. Wethey says: “Empathy is a very little key in one person’s hands. It costs nothing, and can have a big effect on the people that person meets. But mass empathy! There is awesome power in that – enough to open several heavy doors and transform our world.”

*Mote: the super meeting by David Wethey is published by Urbane Publications, price £12.99.

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