Dear Dawn... Meetings Adverse - The Answer
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Dear Dawn… Meetings Adverse – The Answer

Dear Dawn… Meetings Adverse – The Answer

Gulf Business’ leadership expert, Dawn Metcalfe, answers the third question in the series.


After another week of popular discussion and comments, the Gulf Business agony aunt Dawn Metcalfe gives her expert opinion on the third question in the series.

The query last week was:

How can I tell my boss I have better things to spend my time on than in meetings?

Dear Dawn,

Despite my best efforts I recently fell asleep in a meeting with my team! I have to spend all my time in meetings when I could be getting things done instead. How can I get my boss to understand that I have better things to do with my time?


Meetings Adverse

And here is Dawn’s expert opinion:

Dear Meetings Adverse,

Many thanks indeed for your email and rest assured that you are not alone: the number of people who have productive meetings are few and far between and this is a real shame as meetings are, in fact, the best tool we have to get things done especially when we work in teams.

I’m afraid that I’m not going to help you get your boss to understand that you have better things to do with your time as I don’t think that’s the real problem. The problem is that most meetings don’t focus on getting real work done but, don’t worry, you can change that and I’m going to try to give you some very practical ideas that I’ve seen work elsewhere to help you do it.

As with so many things the suggestions here are very simple but not easy to implement and stick to. Sometimes companies need help to make the change from meetings that “take you away from real work” to meetings that “are real work” and, especially if you just don’t have the internal capacity to devote to it, using an external consultant to help you get it right and stay on track can be helpful.

1) Decide on the purpose of the meeting before you meet.

Lencioni’s Death by Meetings (which I highly recommend) suggests you begin by asking what type of meeting you want to have. He suggests you keep it simple and use these four types: daily check-in, weekly tactical, monthly strategic and quarterly off-site review. This helps:

2) Share information, data and background materials via e-mail well ahead of the meeting.

As Deming says, “In God we trust, all others bring data.” This helps focus people on making decisions, stops the “let me get back to you with those numbers” response that leads to even more meetings and allows participants to consider their views and responses in advance.

3) Use a timekeeper to help you stay on time.

Without limits, I can almost guarantee that conversation around a topic will not stay on track and the group won’t meet the agreed goal.

4) Have clear action items coming out of the meeting and next steps.

Meetings should be about getting something done. The problem isn’t that people are lazy or irresponsible. It’s that people leave meetings with different views of what happened and what’s supposed to happen next.

5) Think about using technology to help you be more productive.

A great example is Geoff Bywater, senior vice president of marketing and promotion for FoxMusic, who used Apple PowerBooks to facilitate responses from 170 of his brightest staff in just five minutes while on an organized a strategic retreat.

Technology also helps to promote anonymity and so candour – enabling people to express opinions and evaluate alternatives without having to divulge their identities. This may be particularly important for people from cultures where speaking up is not seen as natural behaviour.

6) Specify the meeting’s decision-making style.

Consider distinguishing among four approaches to decisions: authoritative (the leader has full responsibility); consultative (the leader makes a decision after weighing group input); voting; and consensus. Being clear and up-front about decision styles sets the right expectations and helps focus the conversation.

If you can do even one of these things you will make a real difference to the effectiveness of your meetings and, I hope, to your sanity and that of your colleagues. Meetings seem to be a reflection of an organisation’s culture and it can be hard to break the cultural norms to make them better. Good luck!



The next professional query for week four is now live and open for comment and debate. Follow the link here to participate.

Send your questions for Dawn anonymously to [email protected] and see them answered here next time.

Dawn Metcalfe is the managing director of Performance Development Services (PDS). Find out more at


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