As you can imagine I had to look for a while to find a positive quote about meetings. Quote, after snarky quote from, “The longer the meeting, the less accomplished.” to “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”
Leadership consultant and educator, Peter Drucker believes “Meetings are a symptom of bad organizations.” And of course, there’s the classic complaint that ‘this meeting could have/should have been an email.’ On the other hand, over the years, I’ve seen a number of email chains that should have been at least a phone call. And I have experienced my share of dreadful meetings. So why in the world would I write an essay in praise of meetings?
A student once asked me what I did every day and my answer was, “Meet with people.” And that was literally true. It is again. But, as I told the student that day, on a good day, every one of those meetings moves a project forward, solves a problem, or helps someone develop a good idea. And that’s definitely a good day.
Higher education is often reviled for creating too many committees and having too many committee meetings. And we do have a lot of meetings, and again, they can be ineffective at best, completely useless at worst. All true. But seen another way, university committees are a method of living out an important institutional value. That institutional value is the idea of shared governance.
The term shared governance is most associated and usually codified in policies as a partnership between the faculty and the administration. But bringing students and staff together to consider student fee expenditure is a form of shared governance. Creating a task force that involves the community, alumni and current students and staff to make recommendations to the president is a form of shared governance. In other words, shared governance is a series of meetings that invite a variety of perspectives, voices, and ideas into conversation about important topics.
Sure, there are other ways to learn from others, and to invite people to share their perspectives but most of them are one way communications. A well-designed, well-run meeting invites people to learn, listen, share their opinions, and work together. It adds to building an organizational culture as much as it meets an immediate need.
If the meetings you are attending are deadly, what are you doing to make the meeting better, more worthwhile? This applies doubly if you’re the one calling or leading the meeting. Yes, meetings make it difficult to return email or to write reports or any of the other activities of our work, but that doesn’t mean they are an interruption of our work. Meetings are an essential part of leadership work. Learning to lead them well and learning to be a great meeting participant are valuable leadership skills and can be learned like any other. I hope you’ll be able to find a way to praise meetings too.