Not for nothing are so many “Dilbert” comic strips set in meetings. Notorious for wasting time, dulling motivation and draining creativity, meetings are widely seen as a necessary evil—one poll found that 46 percent of Americans prefer almost any “unpleasant activity” over a meeting. Not surprisingly, managers are trying to reinvent meetings to make them more productive and to meet the changing needs of a 21st-century economy. Technology and startup companies are experimenting with meeting formats and lengths, and some established organizations are following suit. And as staffs become more diverse, managers and researchers say meeting dynamics must include more points of view, communication styles and ways of arriving at decisions. Some experts agree that new technologies may help solve many problems associated with routine meetings. Yet others say that changing corporate culture is more important. Among the questions under debate: Is technology fundamentally changing the nature of meetings? Are planned meetings better than spontaneous meetings? Can women be heard in meetings?
Joanne Cleaver, a freelance writer who has covered business for numerous publications, has written an in-depth report for SAGE Business Researcher on the relevance of traditional meetings in the modern business world. Below is an excerpt from her report:
As the pace of business accelerates, managers are trying to reinvent meetings. Technology and startup companies are experimenting with meeting formats and lengths, and some established organizations are adopting the resulting new practices. The emergence of the flat corporate structure (i.e., few bosses overseeing an army of self-directed, self-managing staff) appears to be diametrically opposed to traditional meeting culture. And as staffs become more diverse in terms of gender, generation and ethnicity, managers and researchers say meeting dynamics must adapt to include more points of view, more styles of communication and more ways of arriving at decisions.
This change is sending stress fractures through long-standing meeting culture and assumptions. From intern orientations to board of director assemblies, many meetings are happening in different ways, with different players, for different reasons.
Workers typically loathe meetings because they appear to wick away the one thing no one can make more of: time. For 18 percent of Americans, a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles is a more appealing way to spend time than attending a “status” meeting – a prototypical form of meeting in which attendees update each other on the progress of various projects, according to a survey released in 2015 by software company Clarizen.