‘Meeting’ the challenge

On the way to a meeting?

I’m not sure if hit US TV show the West Wing quite counts as ‘retro’ yet but either way it certainly was unexpected when it popped into my mind on the way to my fifth meeting of the day.

The scene that sprang to mind was one where the hyperactive Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Lyman, is scheduled for an early morning meeting with someone from NASA. He goes to meeting under duress from his ever faithful assistant Donna and does his best to get out of there as quick as he can. When confronted about his lack of interest in the meeting he lays a little bit of intellectual smack down on the poor NASA administrator before commenting:

I prepare even for meetings I don’t want to go to. I wasn’t improvising. You guys are lost in space.

If we forget the awful space pun (Aaron Sorkin on an off day me thinks) the rest of his comment really resonates with me.

Ask yourself this question: How many times have you had a busy week and thought to yourself, I’ll just skip reading the papers for that meeting and work it out as I go? I know I’ve done it and I can state with cast iron certainty that nearly every single person I have sat in a meeting with has also done so at one time or another. Indeed, I have heard one manager tell me that she didn’t have time to read the papers for a meeting because she had real work to do.

Written like that it can sound quite stark but there is a part of me that feels just a little guilty when I’m sitting at my desk  just, well, reading.

There are of course contributory factors to this in local government. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have received papers for a meeting that are so long that reading them has obviously been designed as an optional extra. Either that or the 50 page paper has been ‘tabled’, and thus sent at 10:30 in advance of the 11am meeting.

What is needed, in my humble opinion, is a little bit of discipline from all involved. Discipline from meeting attendees to read, and think about, the papers before a meeting and discipline from paper writers to prepare concise, interesting and punctual documents in advance of each meeting.

And, whilst this piece seems a little soap-boxy the discipline does matter. Next time you are in a meeting, try and add up the annual salary of everyone in the room. Divide it by 16oo or so and that is the cost of the meeting: the numbers will shock you! If you are going to get that level of expensive talent all in one place at the same time then you might as well make the most of it and as the old aphorism goes: ‘if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’

Likewise, if you don’t have time to read the papers in advance of the meeting you probably don’t have time for the meeting.

It’s not rocket science (I thank you) and I might be alone in this but if you also share this tendency please do join with me in taking a leaf out of Josh Lyman’s book and really prepare for your meetings: even the ones you don’t want to go to!

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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2 Comments on “‘Meeting’ the challenge”

  1. Andrew H Says:

    Sit at our desks and read papers where there is real work to do! Reminds me of the people who don’t read our weekly internal email of news and then say they don’t know what is going on.

  2. So true (many colleagues going to meetings without being prepared) and so right (if you don’t have time to even skim the agenda/papers you don’t have time to go to the meeting). May I add that you will also waste yours and everybody else’s time by being there!

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