Why are meetings so bad?

Andrew Alexander asks:

Why are meetings so bad? There’s a standard set of criticisms of meetings (e.g., ambiguous purposes, wasted time, poor presentation and moderation skills by the leader), most of which are basically accurate. If we’re all so familiar with why meetings are bad, and if the reasons they’re bad are accurate, why are they still bad?

First, I don’t think all meetings are bad!  In part you remember the bad ones more.  Many meetings for me are fun, especially if a) I get to decide something, or b) the other people in the meeting are some mix of smarter/more experienced/more knowledgeable than I am.  In sum those cases hold pretty often, though I will leave it to you to judge the relative mix.

But about bad meetings, I will say this:

1. Often the purpose of a meeting is to instruct everyone in the nature of an idea.  That is boring for many of the people in the room, especially if they are prone to leaving comments on MR.  “We need to get everyone on board.”  Ho hum.

2. Often the purpose of a meeting is to flex muscles and show a demonstration of power/support for a person or idea.  That may or may not be necessary, but it is boring too.

3. Often the purpose of a meeting is so that everyone can feel involved in a decision.  That can be really boring.

4. Some meetings turn into debates, whether intentionally or not.  Most debates are in fact quite boring, and that makes these meetings boring too.

5. Many meetings lack a natural close, due to insufficiently strong leadership.  Participants keep on adding comments, and no single person bites the bullet and shuts them down.  Ending the meeting may suffer from a public goods problem, especially when this factor interacts with #3.  Meetings do not price the scarce resource of time.

6. Many meetings appeal to either the “median voter” or to the “least common denominator” in the meeting.  That also makes meetings worse, noting this factor can interact with all those listed above.

7. On average, meetings attract more low opportunity cost types.  Which in turn further lowers the quality of the median voter or least common denominator in the meeting, thereby producing more interaction effects.

Those are some reasons why meetings are boring, but I have not listed all of them.


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