Old Meeting Habits Die Hard


Old habits die hard. What time is the meeting? How long have we got? Can everyone stay till the end? Which room is it in? Who’s going to be there? Who can’t make it? Is the new guy on Wizzo able to come? Is Wayne dialling in? What time is it for him? Are we covering the problems on Fizzer and Snazzy as well as the catch-up on the rest of the portfolio? But new ways fashion new habits. So many meeting invitations hit our inboxes that they are almost like junk mail. Meetings invariably have end times now, as well as start times.

We all know that meetings don’t work very well. There are too many of them. They occupy too much of our day. They usually fail to advance projects fast enough. They rarely seem to lead to a decision. Each meeting invitation looks like every other one. Our expectation for each meeting is low, because most meetings are humdrum and unexciting. To be honest, they seldom achieve much. They don’t change things. They are not transformatory.

A recent UK survey by Epson says that one in five senior managers and directors spend ten hours or more in meetings every week. More than 2 hours 39 minutes are wasted every week in meetings, and that it only takes eleven minutes for people’s attention to drift. These stats, and the estimate of £26bn being lost to the UK economy every year in wasted meeting time could be much higher. Dave Barry, the American author of Insane City says, ‘If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve its full potential, that word would be Meetings’.
Yet meetings are effectively the way most companies do business. . Meetings are like the factory in a manufacturing company, flying in an airline, or growing food on a farm. Top talent, and the next layer, and the ones waiting in the wings all effectively work in and through meetings. So if meetings are not particularly productive, that is disastrous. The system is in danger of being inefficient, as well as demotivating.

My passionate belief is that it’s time for a revolution in the way we do meetings. We need a much better meeting. We need a smarter way to get together in order to make decisions, plan for change, drive projects, identify opportunities and solve problems. We obviously need meetings to inform, discuss and reach agreement. But all meetings don’t have to be the way they are. In my book DECIDE (published February 2013 by Kogan Page) I identified the ‘average’ one hour meeting as a barrier to progress, bordering on a waste of time.
Since then I have been working on a radical new meeting system, designed to liberate us all from the frustrations of inefficient, time-consuming sessions. We need meetings that are focused on goals and outcomes, not inputs and logistics. We need to focus single-mindedly on what comes out of the meeting, not who is entitled to be there. I believe the ‘Mote’ is that better way. I have revived a word from Old English, where it meant the place where community meetings were held. To this day the words for meeting in Danish and Norwegian are close relatives of Mote.

Mote is a streamlined system and process for running more effective meetings. The process is driven by a two person team – the Leader (who is tasked with driving a project or a decision) and a Navigator (a meeting specialist responsible for facilitation, casting and logistics). Specialists and experts are added as needed, and stood down when they have made their contribution.

In future I hope that Mote will stand for progress, speed, change and efficiency. My new book MOTE: THE SUPER MEETING (to be published early next year) will explain how to get started, and why a revolutionary new meeting regime will have far wider benefits than just more efficient meetings.