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Most days are a series of meetings – bad meetings. In his book Read This Before Your Next Meeting, consultant Al Pittampalli notes that most meetings are held for convenience, because we don't want to capture our thinking in a memo; for formality, because managers think their job requires holding meetings; or for social purposes, to create connection.

He urges us to only hold meetings, like waging war, as a last resort. They would follow these principles:

Support a decision

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Under Mr. Pittampalli's rules, you would no longer call a meeting to make a decision. Instead, you would make a preliminary decision, and then call others together to check that you haven't messed up or missed anything, and to work out collaboratively on how to execute the decision.

"This principle will stop the overplanning and mass interruption that occurs so often," he writes. "If you need my input pre-decision, you'll have to get it from me personally. We'll have a conversation. Less convenient for you, but that's the point. You're the one with the looming decision to make, not me."

Focus on conflict and co-ordination

The person who calls the meeting should own his or her decisions and champion them strongly, but in a good organization everyone should be open to input from others. In this new form of meeting – he calls them "modern meetings" – if there are differing opinions or serious objections, the idea is to get them out on the table and discuss them.

"Upon making a decision, if you're not willing to alter it or modify it any way, don't bother having a modern meeting," he says.

If useful action is to come from the decision, it will require co-ordination. The meeting gives people a forum to figure out how to support the initiative.

Move quickly

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Traditional meetings seem to go on forever, and if time runs out, another meeting is set. He urges you to keep meetings as brief as possible, with a firm end time.

Limit attendance

Invite only the people who are absolutely necessary for dealing with the decision that has been presented. Everyone invited should determine whether they are really needed by asking themselves:

  • Will I be able to function if I read about the meeting after it’s over rather than actually attend?
  • If I am given the decision to be discussed in advance, can I give the decision maker my opinion and skip the session?
  • Do I add value by sitting in the meeting without participating?
  • Am I attending symbolically, or simply as a way to demonstrate my power?

"If you have no strong opinion, have no interest in the outcome, and are not instrumental for any co-ordination that needs to take place, we don't need you," Mr. Pittampalli declares. "From now on, if you're invited to a meeting where you don't belong, please don't attend."

Everyone must be prepared

The meeting leader must prepare an agenda and background material, and everyone must read those papers before attending since conflict and co-ordination – the purpose of the meeting – require preparation. This isn't high school, where you can waltz in unprepared and offer impromptu ideas. Unprepared participants (often senior executives, he stresses, who stroll into the meeting empty-handed) are a dead weight.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More


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