Meet of the Matter

Only a fifth of the people who attend meetings are required, the rest contribute very little

In most organisations these days, the maximum time seems to be spent in meetings. It’s become a default setting. A Harvard Business Review article on the subject concluded that many meetings become unproductive because too many people are involved. Organisations assume that the more people there are, the greater the selection of ideas. The truth, as Harvard researchers discovered, is that only a fifth of the people who attend meetings are required, the rest contribute very little. Moreover, a crowded meeting tends to lose focus, with everybody joining in.

Meetings are actually divided into two kinds. One, lengthy, aimless discussions culminating in very few actionable outcomes. The second kind are one-way, autocratic affairs, in which a senior person dictates instructions to others—an email would have served just as well. At Apple, one individual is assigned responsibility for each item on the agenda.

Discussions flow freely, but one person steers the conversation to ensure there is no loss of focus. The other issue is time; many managers believe that the longer a meeting, the more ideas will emerge. The truth is that shorter meetings achieve more since there is a time-frame for the discussion and everyone comes prepared.

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