Meetings galore

Mr R used to manage a Sunday league football team made up of local council workers. They were great, he said, but whenever he tried to make suggestions and implement changes, instead of saying, ‘yes boss,’ and getting on with it, they liked to brainstorm and discuss the situation and find a solution that worked for everybody. Not a brilliant strategy for playing football on a freezing winter morning in the least salubrious parts of South London.

 The fact that we’re overfond of meetings  is a valid criticism often levelled at the public sector. Working across three local authorities I’m expected to attend more meetings than my colleagues so I have to organise my time carefully. I always prioritise work with schools but I try to be fair to everyone who wants me on their group as I’m quite often the only voice speaking up for schools.

 Most meetings I attend have a clear purpose and we actually get things done but not all are like this. I’ve sat in freezing cold/ boiling hot rooms wishing I could poke biros in my ears. I’ve even perfected the art of slipping out of my seat half way through a boring meeting mouthing, ‘sorry, got to rush,’ to the chairperson. (I’ve only used that one a couple of times. Honest.) And since the recession hit you don’t even get offered a cup of tea/ glass of water/ biscuit as incentive.

 So why are we so obsessed with meetings in the public sector? As deputy head in my school I was used to making my own decisions. I had my responsibilities and I got on with them after running things by my colleagues. When I started working for the local authority I found all the consultation and discussion and planning incredibly tedious (and still do to a certain extent) but I understand why it’s necessary. It’s to do with the fact that we’re using public money in our work and we need proper buy-in from all our stakeholders in order to use the money and resources effectively. After all, I’m the one leading on my area but I need support from others in order to make what I do effective and worthwhile and vice versa so meetings are a necessary evil.

 A colleague and I are in the process of negotiating a small amount of private consultancy work from one LA for after we’re made redundant. We proposed a package of support to our intermediary who doesn’t hold the purse strings but knows someone who does. It was going fairly well and then I said, ‘and of course as part of that package of support we’d be willing to attend one or two important meetings as needed.’ His eyes lit up. I think the contract might be ours.

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10 Responses to Meetings galore

  1. J.G.Harston says:

    Of course, meetings is what you do to avoid doing any work… 😉

  2. LG Worker says:

    You make a good case for meetings, but in this authority (more so then any I have worked in) there are far to many. Why do we have to have a meeting about something we could discuss over the telephone, or simple by going to the desk next to us and talking to taht person? Also meetings should be 1 hour long, not 2 (then it’s a workshop). Any longer then 1 hour, then it is a bad meeting. I’m just fed up of meetings that the same thing is said about 10 times, actions are discussed but not agreed and any action decided on isn’t allocated to someone, so everyone things everyone else is doing the action. Sorry got to run, i have a meeting.

    • citizenr says:

      You’re so right about meetings not lasting more than an hour. I think some people just like the sound of their own voices… the best meetings are the ones where the chair sticks to the agenda, get things done and moves on..with clear actions, like you say. Start a campaign in your LA and I’ll try and do the same in mine.

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  4. Anon says:

    I have discussed this with colleagues (at a meeting, but it was off our own bat and in the boozer, not in worktime) as we both found them often really tedious and useless. We agreed that often the meeting is called because everyone wants a decision but noone has the authority to make it – or rather, noone wants to be the one that made the decision. Then at the meeting, everyone talks around the houses and everyone leaves without a clear decision being made.

    I think you could get rid of 60-75% of meetings in the public sector organisations I have worked in – what is needed is people who are able to make decisions and then at least if you have meetings, you can get a definitive outcome. Most of the public sector workers I have encountered run a mile from actually making a decision, and would much rather sit in meetings and discuss things. Not a good approach in my book!

    • citizenr says:

      Good point about noone having the authority to make decisions. That is definitely a big part of it and I agree with the 60-75%. I noticed recently that as colleagues get made redundant (or at least have reducued influence) the number of meetings is reducing.

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