• Mon, Oct 24 2011

Why A Meeting Might Be The Worst Way To Address A Problem

In my career, I’ve attended a whole lot of meetings. I’ve sat at the head of the table and I’ve hidden myself in the back. I’ve given presentations and I’ve held back some yawns. I’ve been the problem at some of my meetings and I’ve been able to provide solutions at others.

For almost every business person out there, meetings are a part of life. I’ve come to appreciate a good meeting. I don’t even mind having them first thing in the morning. But I believe that meetings have their limits.

If there’s more than three people, meetings can only accomplish two things. They can provide information, like a weekly sales meeting or a monthly safety committee meeting. Or they can motivate employees, like at the start of a new incentive or right before your company’s busy time of the year. In these two areas, a big office-wide sit down is the perfect way to communicate with everyone at once and drum up some excitement about upcoming events.

Want to know something that meetings are terrible at? Fixing problems. I’m convinced that the so-called “come-to-Jesus meeting” where everyone airs their dirty laundry and comes clean about their problems never helps anyone and only makes an issue worse. If there’s a problem at your company, whether it’s an attitude conflict, a scheduling disagreement or a procedural argument, it can’t be solved by getting everyone together for a round table discussion.

Don’t believe me? Think about this. When you open a meeting concerning an problem that’s going on in your team or company, the first thing that you do is explain your position and the events that led up to current situation. I might say, “I wanted to talk to you guys today because we’ve had a lack of communication when dealing with X account. I need us all to work together to get this taken care of.” Immediately, I’ve outlined the problem and how I expect my team to solve it. Even if there are no specifics in my introduction, I’ve already communicated that I have a desired result. My employees are going to feel like I’m not worried about their feelings or frustrations, only getting my way.

If instead, I begin the meeting without naming our problem and ask the employees directly to tell me what’s going on, I’m unlikely to get a clear answer. Each person in the room has their own problem and they don’t want to be the person who points fingers at their co-workers or throws someone under the bus in the middle of a meeting. So no matter how upset they are, it’s unlikely that they’ll say, “I need this department to talk to me more about X account and how they want me to handle their demands.” That would just cause more animosity between the departments.

Large group meetings don’t work to solve problems, because every one in the company wants to feel like their input and comfort level matters. They want to know that you take their opinions into account when you make decisions. If you aren’t asking your employee for those opinions one-on-one, they aren’t going to be able to be completely honest with you. Then, they’re going to leave your big “come together moment” just as frustrated as they went into it. Possibly more, because their boss thinks the situation is handled and they still feel like crap about it.

If you’re sitting in a meeting asking for feedback about an issue that you know is bothering people, yet no one is talking, that doesn’t mean that they’ve put the problem behind them. It means that they’re uncomfortable speaking in front of the group, or they feel like you’ve shut them down before they could even say anything.

Problems aren’t solved through meetings. Problems are addressed by getting individual input and making an executive decision. They’re solved through constructive criticism and honest communication. You aren’t going to get that in a room full of people who are trying to work together on a day-to-day basis.

I enjoy a good meeting, especially if there’s snacks, but I don’t expect solutions to come out of them. Instead of trying to come together all at once, take the time to speak with your employees individually. It’ll save a lot of trouble in the end.

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  • Liz Atkins

    Not only is it rare that you solve the root of the problem you’re meeting about, but the sheer cost of having your whole department in a meeting for hours. The cost is not only monetary but also in lost production. Not to mention the decrease in moral your employees will feel after sitting in a usless meeting. When booking meetings I believe it’s important to ensure that everyone who is attending is involved, and that it’s actually important for them to be there. There is nothing like waisting hours of my day in meetings that I can’t contribute to, or even care to.