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The New Cure for Meeting Sickness


A great friend's father has a printing company in Scandinavia. They have a complete ban on planned meetings. There is one organised meeting a year and that is to discuss the Christmas party! Agreeably this is not tenable in all businesses but a great ethos to work towards.

One of the biggest obstacles to creativity and productivity I find in the workplace is ineffectual meetings. The Dutch have a word for it: vergaderziekte. It literally translates as meeting sickness and something I would wager we have all experienced. Yet it seems over time very little changes in the meeting culture, despite numerous tips on how to make them better. The reason generally cited for lack of movement is that it is accepted as just part of working life and management aren't interested in change.

Research suggests that business managers spend between 50% and 75% of their time in meetings: the higher the level of seniority, the greater the proportion of the day spent meeting bound. It is estimated that meetings cost businesses an average of around £16,000 per head, per year and yet over 40% of meetings produce no actionable results.

That is a lot of wasted talent, time and money.

With thought and planning we can make meetings work better for us and the bottom line.

The first step is ownership. Without this there will be no change. Stand up and take a leap of faith. Be the one who cures the meeting sickness that pervades your workplace. People will thank you for it. In fact, people will love and reward you for it. Especially senior staff when they see an engaged and productive team.

Here are some suggestions to help you on your way:

Wake Up!

We are creatures of habit and spend a large proportion of our day on auto-pilot, going through the motions. The human brain is only about 3% of people's body weight yet it uses 20-25% of our daily energy supply, whatever the brain is doing. Our constantly innovative society bombards our minds with information. We now consume about 100,000 words each day from various media, which is a massive 350 percent increase over what we handled back in 1980. To handle this overload, our minds slip into the easiest route possible to conserve our energy and we miss many opportunities that are available to us every day. We are numbed.

Take a moment to look at how your meetings are run and challenge them - the room layout, who runs them, do we need seats? Do we need the session to run a full hour? Do we need Powerpoint or a flip chart? Questioning it will prompt new ideas for change. Change helps us break free from our habits, fills us with energy and helps open up our creative minds.


People's lack of respect and value for meetings means it features low in their priorities.

Research claims that more than half (56%) of all employees admit failing to attend meetings and other work events on time at least once a week and 23% said they perform badly in meetings after arriving late. 48% said this adversely affected the performance of their colleagues.

The ripple effect of this lack of interest in meetings is huge in terms of productivity and engagement.

Always be in the room a few minutes early and make sure the space and the amenities are conducive to what you want to achieve.

Set a tight time limit on the meeting and start on time with absolutely no exceptions. 37 Signals are defiantly against meetings, they even created National Boycott a Meeting Day in 2011. But one of their three rules they have to meet is 'Keep it short. No, shorter than that. Use a timer to enforce that limit'.

An enforced deadline will keep people focused on what is needed to be achieved and not let them feel they are wasting valuable work time.


Make a conscious decision to only invite people to a meeting who need to be there if you are running it or only attend a meeting where you feel you will be of value and are essential to the output.

Set up is vital. Be clear on what you want to achieve - what the brief is, why people are in the room and how people need to behave. No phones and positive open minds are basics. Ensure people leave with actionable steps. Apple breeds accountability at meetings through Directly Responsible Individuals. "Any effective meeting at Apple will have an action list," says a former Apple employee. "Next to each action item will be the DRI." A common phrase heard around Apple when someone is trying to learn the right contact on a project: "Who's the DRI on that?" There is no confusion.

If you are running the meeting, always lead by example. If you are not, find some cojones and speak up if something is clearly not working, making suggestions on how it could work better. If the person running the meeting has done well, let them know what they have done brilliantly and what could make it even better. If it was a pointless waste of time, offer to run it next time. Here you can find some tips on how to give feedback.


Come up with lots of ideas on how you can change the meeting culture in your business. Some will work and some will not. The important thing is to try and learn through experimenting with what works for you and your colleagues, the results can often be surprising.

At eBay, one day every month, the IT department bans all meetings. You would think this would prevent ideas without collaboration, but quite the opposite happens. Scott Seese, eBay's CEO, says that on that day, "all people are allowed to do is think'. Ideas are noted and brainstormed the next day, voted on by staff and the best are implemented.

The opportunity to cure vergaderziekle lies firmly in your hands. Take it.

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