Death of the meeting

Professional development: knowledge, ideas and tools for furthering a career in higher education and enriching your experience of being a HE professional

Amber Bartlett
Management Trainee
University of Birmingham

Most of us know the feeling – you look at your diary for the week and see a sea of meetings. First thought: When am I going to eat lunch?! Second thought: How am I going to keep on top of my emails (let alone do any follow up actions from said meetings)?!

This is even more painfully obvious as you battle for half an hour of a Senior Officer’s time (squeezing out their ill-fated attempts to hold time for actual thinking and working time).

All this deluge of meetings accomplishes is an ever growing list of actions that you cannot complete before the guaranteed follow-up meeting is in the diary. Not only are we not achieving all the important actions we have agreed on, but we are also potentially feeding a culture of poor wellbeing amongst colleagues as stress grows and ever more employees feel compelled to work evenings and weekends to try and get a handle on emails and the backlogged to-do list.

Recently, when working on a project that is outside of the scope of my day-to-day role, I found myself blocking in time in the diary with my project counterparts to actually just sit and get the work done. Although we called these ‘meetings’, or the infamous university ‘catch up’, actually these were more like workshops, or what Agile methodology might call ‘Sprints’. Instead of getting into long email chains, we made the materials needed, discussed and approved them there and then, all in the space of one ‘meeting’. Although this could seem like just another meeting to try and squeeze into the working day, coming away without any urgent follow up actions, means actually dedicating less time overall to one project. I have also found it reduces the chances of leaving a meeting and immediately forgetting all about the important email you promised to send or the fact you meant to check.

If we can shift our mind-sets in Universities to encourage more bringing your laptop and actively getting things done in a ‘meeting’, maybe we can move away from everyone secretly replying to emails while a long discussion between two parties takes place and everyone else wonders why they are there and if the meeting was needed at all. To get here, we might just need to say goodbye to our traditional idea of having a meeting and actively decide to get things done.

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