November 8, 2010 10 Comments
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.