Bad meetings

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Ah, meetings: the scourge of the productive, and friend only to time-wasters or lovers of biscuits. I used to work for an NGO, and I know only too well the havoc that can be wreaked by endless meetings leaving no time to do any actual work. Sometimes we would have meetings to talk about when to have meetings.

Yuki Noguchi writes for NPR this week on why the workday is so full of meetings and I can really relate: meetings taking too long, meetings with no real purpose, participants there in body but not in mind, notebooks full of doodles, etc etc.

I now work for a Japanese employer, and the meeting culture is very different. Meetings in Japan are held to confirm decisions already made elsewhere (by a process known as nemawashi – quietly getting approval by approaching decision-makers informally much earlier on). This can really confuse Westerners who generally turn up to meetings expecting to have a cup of tea and a chinwag about something, and not to mention bad for your career once you realise you’re only there to rubber-stamp something that has been agreed without you. But on the plus side it does mean you’re less likely to be stuck there for hours wondering what the meeting is about. The other good thing about Japanese meetings, at least those involving very senior managers, is the bento boxes.

I say those calling the meeting (in any culture) should be upfront about what the meeting is about. If you were told: ‘I have no goal in mind for calling this meeting, but I just feel the need to have a chat and a catch-up. Oh, and there will be biscuits and coffee.’ Then at least you would know what to expect on getting there. And you needn’t worry so much about making intelligent input. But in that instance you should be allowed to politely decline without any damage to your working relationships. And then go home on time for once.