“Let’s have a meeting.” You’ve said it, now you feel better. Go on, admit it, you feel relieved. You can relax knowing you’ve taken the bull by the horns and done something. Pat yourself on the back, a date is going in the diary – a tangible action. Or is it? Do meetings in reality just slow everything down, courting deliberation and procrastination that simply delays getting the job under discussion done.

Meetings have become an unavoidable part of our business culture. We insist on them to make any decision, to start any project, to keep in touch with our team, even just to get through the day. If you don’t have a diary full of meetings you feel like somehow that you’re failing in your job. Even though too many meetings ironically prevent many of us doing our job and getting home on time.

It’s estimated that in the UK 5 million meetings happen everyday. And 80% of that time is wasted. Making sure meetings are well-designed and really needed is one way we can all make better use of our working day. And I’d like to suggest that’s all about injecting some PACE (Preparation, Action, Creative Control and Engagement) into our meeting schedules.

Do you actually need that meeting you have just suggested? If a meeting is habitual or has no clear objectives it can be a waste of time. There is a danger that pointless meetings become talking shops that are self gratifying rather than productive. 
If the only purpose is just to share information, could this be done more efficiently via electronic channels? 

A well-designed meeting is crafted to drive action. Measurable outcomes and actions are an essential output of a well-designed meeting. The close of the meeting should not be the end, it should be the start of the next phase of progress. 
The end of the meeting isn’t the end of the discussion; the meeting should inspire people to think, discuss further and most importantly act. 

Creative Control
A good chairperson is key; to keep order, to keep the meeting moving, keep an eye on the timings and to make sure the points are covered. But just as important is the chair’s ability to energise the attendees, keep them engaged and involved. And this means listening and responding, provoking discussion and ideas. A robotic chair, whose only aim is to get through the agenda can fail to achieve anything but good timing and stifle creativity. 

Thorough preparation, commitment and enthusiastic engagement are key to a successful meeting. When you spot someone around the table stifling a yawn, fighting to stop their heavy eyelids from closing or doodling aimlessly across the top of the agenda papers you know the meeting is destined to be a waste. So… 

So, before you scurry off to your next pointless meeting, ask yourself does it need a bit of PACE? 

If you enjoyed this Afternoon Debate, you can join the conversation here.

Laura Jane Johnson is a freelance writer and communications specialist, with a specialist interest in employee communications. Contact her at [email protected].