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Canberra, the meeting capital of the nation

By 2 June 2014 14

meetings

I want to know how many Canberrans can say this statement out loud right now and mean it.

“I seem to spend my my entire life in meetings talking about things that me and my colleagues are going to do.  The truth is, we never get to do them because we waste our time in all of THESE BLOODY MEETINGS !!”

My Monday is full of meetings. I have 5 of the mongrels scheduled for the day.

The first one is at 9am, the last is at 4.30pm.

They will suck the life out of my day.  All bar one of them has no apparent purpose other than to tick the box that says we had that meeting. I don’t need to know about what every  other individual in my section is doing, and they don’t really need to know about my business.  I don’t need our section head to share the latest report with us. I don’t need to talk any  more about engaging with our stakeholders.

I’D BE ENGAGING WITH OUR STAKEHOLDERS A WHOLE LOT MORE IF WASN’T LOCKED UP IN THIS BLOODY MEETING !

Not sure how your workplace functions, but a quick scan of my diary from the last 2 weeks showed that more than half of my workday was consumed by meetings.

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything,” and he’s absolutely right.

I was reading a Clarizen/Harris Interactive survey, I think it’s American based, but it applies here. It suggests that only 40 percent of employees think status update meetings waste valuable time, and 70 percent say these meetings don’t help them get any work done. And 67 percent of those surveyed say they are spending up to four hours per week getting ready for their next status update meeting.

And how many times do you sit there waiting for the meeting to wrap up but because every single attendee wants to add their little bit, because everybody wants to show their worth, it drags on and on  and on.

Surely it’s not like this in the private sector ? Is it ?

What’s the meeting situation at your workplace ?

Sebastian Fernandez is a new contributor to the RiotACT. As a long time resident of Canberra, he is a keen observer of her quirks, whether fondly or not.

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14 Responses to Canberra, the meeting capital of the nation
#1
enrique11:09 am, 02 Jun 14

A mate of mine once said that people should run their day-to-day business operations like they would play a computer game…

You’re either a game player (worker) or a game designer (business owner/manager)

1) Make sure the big picture strategy is set, agreed to and in place (i.e. the game is designed)… e.g. complete the game, save the princess, stop the alien invasion… that way everyone in the game knows what big picture targets they are aiming for (i.e. increase market share by n% this year, produce the best product in our particular sector, deliver govt. service X in the most efficient and accountable way…

2) Just get into the game and start playing it, don’t waste time talking about it. e.g insert credit

3) Let the players (i.e. workers) make decisions on the fly to the best of their ability. e.g. go left, shoot, open that box, u-u-d-d-l-r-l-r-b-a, they’ll get better as they play (do their work) and over time you’ll find things getting closer to reaching the end-game

4) Leave them alone and check in occasionally. e.g. have a break point when they reach the end of the level or if it looks like they are going to get hit and lose a life (i.e. completed on time and on spec OR running late / have issues)

5) Give them bonus points (e.g. 1UP, challenge achievement, etc.) whenever they do really well (i.e. set milestone targets with incentives)

I kind of agree with my mate for the most part… you’d never reach the end of Wonder Boy or Mortal Kombat if you kept having to discuss with your mates how you were going to play all the time. Just get on with it!

#2
Grail12:03 pm, 02 Jun 14

A very powerful tool in controlling the domination of your work time by meetings is the word “no.”

You can simply choose to not attend those meetings which do not have an agenda, or do not relate to the work you’re doing or likely to be doing. Sometimes you do need to be harsh: “No, I’m not coming: there’s no agenda and you have previously been a very bad meeting chair and your meetings end up becoming water cooler sessions that last an hour rather than the 30 minutes scheduled.”

#3
rosscoact12:15 pm, 02 Jun 14

oh yeah, back in the day when I was in the PS, meetings ruled my life. Now (almost) the only time I have meetings is when I meet with public servants

#4
justin heywood12:28 pm, 02 Jun 14

Grail said :

…. Sometimes you do need to be harsh: “No, I’m not coming: there’s no agenda and you have previously been a very bad meeting chair and your meetings end up becoming water cooler sessions that last an hour rather than the 30 minutes scheduled.”

Now that’s a recipe for happiness right there. You’ll remain at APS 4 level for the rest of your life, but who cares about that?

#5
milkman12:30 pm, 02 Jun 14

I remember working for a large IT service provider and on troubled projects we’d have daily progress meetings, sometimes twice daily. I would lose 1-2 hours every day to these meetings, and yet they achieved nothing.

I’m also a firm believer in using the word ‘no’.

#6
Sebastian Fernandez2:53 pm, 02 Jun 14

milkman said :

I remember working for a large IT service provider and on troubled projects we’d have daily progress meetings, sometimes twice daily. I would lose 1-2 hours every day to these meetings, and yet they achieved nothing.

I’m also a firm believer in using the word ‘no’.

And yes, we all agree that saying NO would work, but it’s not always practical. Those above us seem to believe that meetings are so amazingly important.

#7
Sebastian Fernandez2:54 pm, 02 Jun 14

rosscoact said :

oh yeah, back in the day when I was in the PS, meetings ruled my life. Now (almost) the only time I have meetings is when I meet with public servants

Are you serious ? If this is true, it’s exactly what I’m going on about !!

#8
rosscoact3:29 pm, 02 Jun 14

Sebastian Fernandez said :

rosscoact said :

oh yeah, back in the day when I was in the PS, meetings ruled my life. Now (almost) the only time I have meetings is when I meet with public servants

Are you serious ? If this is true, it’s exactly what I’m going on about !!

Back to back days were the worst and rarely an agenda or agreed outcomes.

These days we use virtual meeting and collaboration spaces along with client portals on a daily basis and I’m amazed that the government doesn’t do the same.

#9
Madam Cholet3:45 pm, 02 Jun 14

Grail said :

A very powerful tool in controlling the domination of your work time by meetings is the word “no.”

You can simply choose to not attend those meetings which do not have an agenda, or do not relate to the work you’re doing or likely to be doing. Sometimes you do need to be harsh: “No, I’m not coming: there’s no agenda and you have previously been a very bad meeting chair and your meetings end up becoming water cooler sessions that last an hour rather than the 30 minutes scheduled.”

I remember one reaction I had when I withdrew from a particularly tedious regular meeting that was just a belly button analysis-fest. Holy hell, did it cause fall out, not least because you are telling them that their meeting is irrelevant. Still, made my point and moved on.

Meetings can be good, as long as you don’t come out with more work and everyone else acts as if the were never there.

#10
dungfungus9:13 pm, 02 Jun 14

As one who has never been in the public service, I find this thread fascinating.
I read somewhere that in Russia people pretend to work and the state pretends to pay them.
It appears to be no different in the Australian public service judging by these anecdotes.

#11
tobefair9:16 pm, 02 Jun 14

I agree that it’s often worth saying no, but it can be pretty career limiting. I do generally insist on an agenda wherever possible.

I don’t have much APS experience, but the private sector isn’t immune. Although the issue at my previous company (a large international) was that a lot of time was spent ‘reporting’ on productivity and predicting as such. I often felt like including a column for ‘time spent writing these reports’ which would have been significant. But, much of it is playing the game.

#12
Hosinator10:12 pm, 02 Jun 14

Having sat on both sides of the fence in both the private and public sector there seems to be two very different reasons for frequent meetings.
The issue in the Public Service is that there seems to be a requirement to have stakeholder engagement for most of the programs or projects that are run. The way to limit these is to agree how much is really required with senior management.

tobefair said :

a lot of time was spent ‘reporting’ on productivity and predicting as such.

Definitely agree with this comment about the private sector. It bordered on the ridiculous in some cases for me, getting up at 3am to conference in for global productivity discussions.

One thing I’ve instigated in my teams is the 20 minute meeting, short, sharp and focussed. To reduce meeting overload with our fellow APS colleagues at other agencies, we limit our meetings to 30 mins and we set agendas with points for agreement.

Plus 1 to saying NO!

#13
Walker12:56 am, 03 Jun 14

Much has been studied and written about these sort of things. Find the best of it, read it, apply it.

Here’s just one tiny little suggestion, wherever you can apply it: go for mornings instead of afternoons.

(And the private sector has just as many problems, from what I’ve seen so far, so I wouldn’t go too fast on the stereotypes… at any rate the relevant useful things can apply here or there, so if you find them by all means try them out).

I don’t completely agree with that first post by enrique (reward systems can be tricky, works in some ways backfires in others), but it’s all up very interesting. Some goal setting and a degree of independence to the various players, many contexts that works very well and people can take on some good energy in that sort of thing.

And to think some people claim computer games are pointless…

One thing a meeting needs is a good leader. Tough gig, some empathy there (and maybe a little help, they might appreciate it now and then?)… but yes, leadership is one factor.

#14
Mark Parton6:01 am, 03 Jun 14

Luckily commercial radio hasn’t been infected by the meeting disease quite like this. Having said that, Austereo stations reportedly have a meeting overload. I’m told that insiders used to believe that Adelaide’s SAFM actually stood for “Sh– Another F—–g Meeting”

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