THE PEOPLE DIMENSION
OGILVY PUBLIC RELATIONS WORLDWIDE
– PARTNERS IN LEARNING
ASIA PACIFIC 2000
„IS THIS MEETING REALLY NECESSARY?‟ S HIS EETING EALLY ECESSARY„ITMRN?‟
by Roderick Wilkinson
Most people would agree that too many managers call too many meetings that simply waste time. And usually they call them because: they have a problem they can‟t resolve without some assistance; they don‟t know what to do; or they feel they don‟t know what to do; or they feel they don‟t have the authority to make a decision.
Let‟s face it, there are only three kinds of justifiable business meetings:
1. To train people; 2. To give information; 3. To solve a problem.
The first two speak for themselves: somebody teaches something to the group or somebody announces something. That‟s it. No griping, no ego trips, no silly questions. At
the end, you either know something you didn‟t know before or you‟ve been taught something about your job.
The real trouble lies with the third type of meeting.
Now, I am not suggesting for a minute that problem-solving meetings should be forbidden. Problems are problems and they have to be solved somehow. And if getting the right people together in a room is the only way of reaching a decision, then that‟s that. But I wish I had a dollar for every meeting I have attended in the last 20 years which should never have taken place at all. As I remember some of them, this is what the meeting leader was really
“Things at my end of the business are getting screwed up and I don’t know why. Do you?”
“Here are some interesting facts I’ve unearthed. (Aren’t I clever?) What do you think of them? Shouldn’t we do something?
“I want to give you a proposal that will improve our business, but I don’t want to take the responsibility for spending the money or installing the equipment or training the people. Will you?
“Here is something I’ve decided. I don’t want any arguments from any of you whether you like the decision or not; but the company tells me I have to involve you in decisions like this – whatever the
hell that means – so that’s why you’re here.”
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Article in Industry Week
There are times to hold a meeting and there are times to forget it. Usually they‟re a waste of time. For some peculiar reason, there seems to be an adverse ratio between the number of people who attend a meeting and its chances of coming up with a worthwhile conclusion.
When you think about it, problem-solving meetings are too often called by a manager for one of three reasons:
1. He is losing his argument with his boss or the board or the accountants – or somebody
– and hopes to raise a groundswell of opinion that may save him.
2. He really feels he doesn‟t have the authority to solve a problem his own way, so he
hopes to latch on to the “severally responsible” kick. And if there‟s a backlash – well,
we all decided on it, didn‟t we? So we all get our bottoms kicked.
3. He‟s taken his project so far, but is stuck for new ideas to get it “over the hill” and,
instead of saying so, he uses the meeting as a fishing expedition.
All this negative, of course. Problem-solving meetings can be run successfully if the meeting
leader is honest, modest, open-minded, and respects other people‟s view. (How many
managers are like that?) And the most successful meeting leaders seem to be saying:
“Here‟s an objective that‟s going to benefit all of us personally and corporately. It‟s good for the organisation and, therefore, good for everybody here. You want proof of this? All right, here‟s the evidence. If we can achieve it, this is what I think will happen: this good thing and
that good thing. Everybody benefits – employees, customers, dealers, and particularly you.
There‟s better job security, a smoother life, and maybe better pay. Certainly it will be more profitable for the company.
“Now here are the facts. They‟re interesting. . . .Did you know, for example, that our competitors are doing so-and-so? Or that we have been neglecting such-and-such? Look at
these figures – don‟t they tell you something? Now let‟s look at the options we have. There are three, as far as I can see. But if you can think of any others, I‟d like to hear from you.”
At this stage the best meeting leaders throw open the discussion about the merits and disadvantages of each option. Then, after everyone has had his or her say, he chooses the most acceptable option. It might be “let‟s do nothing.” Certainly that‟s one option. But a decision has been made and – more importantly – the people concerned know why cause
they contributed to the decision.
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Article in Industry Week
In my estimation there are eight situations in which you should not call a meeting to solve a problem:
1. When you‟ve made your mind up what to do anyway.
2. When you now what should be done but don‟t want to take the responsibility.
3. When you don’t know what should be done and want somebody else to make the
4. When you are trying to use the meeting to “pull a fast one” on a colleague or your
5. When you are on an ego trip and simply like the sound of your voice.
6. When you just feel that “it‟s the democratic thing to do.”
7. When the subject is to unimportant to merit a meeting.
8. When you‟ve lost your case elsewhere and are looking for a life belt.
# # #
Mr. Wilkinson is a Glasgow, Scotland-based business
consultant, writer, and lecturer. For 22 years he served as
an employee-relations executive with a U.S.-based
multinational company. A fellow of the Institute of
Personnel Management, he is the author of A Recipe for
Acknowledgements to Page 3
Article in Industry Week