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A new book from Sweden looks at the rise and rise of meetings and argues that meetings have an undeserved bad reputation and have many different purposes apart from decision-making.
The number of meetings is increasing due to a growth in professional roles that link to strategising and project management, but many are about more than decision-making, according to a Swedish professor.
Professor Patrik Hall is co-author of a new book on meetings which argues that meetings have an unwarranted bad reputation. He says that while some meetings are motivational and useful, others produce nothing much, but that this is partly because people don’t take them seriously, allowing themselves to be distracted during them or failing to show up.
Despite more remote working, Professor Hall, who is based at the University of Malmo, says new professional roles, such as strategist and project manager, are increasing the number of meetings people may be pulled into. This means many people are now spending half their working hours or more attending meetings.
Many are not labelled as meetings, says Professor Hall. “Meetings are not always called meetings,” he says. “Take the border police, for example, who refer to their meetings abroad as ‘power weeks’. Sometimes pre-meetings are held – a meeting before the meeting. Or how about status, structural, and lunch meetings?”
He highlights the positives meetings can bring – such as bringing the organisation together and reminding employees of the organisation, department or unit to which they belong. He says the purpose here is connection and identity, rather than decision-making.
They can also be an opportunity to complain and be acknowledged by colleagues, which is “a kind of therapy”.
He adds that meetings can be improved, for example, by not automatically booking one or two hour long meetings. Such meetings tend to continue until the end, even though the participants have finished the business earlier, he states.
He adds that equality is the most important aspect to ensure that meetings are engaging and enthusiastic.
“When you have meetings with colleagues at the same level, as a professional, you get to discuss different issues that interest you. Meetings with individuals at higher levels in the organisation instead arouse feelings of meaninglessness. There is always a subtle power struggle against the leadership of the organisation,” says Hall.
He adds that many of our negative attitudes towards meetings are often not about the meetings themselves.
“People often feel marginalised. They feel that they have no influence or position,” says Professor Hall. “In these cases, the perception is that meetings do not improve anything, but actually cause even more frustration.”