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Adam Yurkewicz | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

I hate meetings

In this article in the new york times, Professor Reid Hastie writes that “every organization has too many meetings, and far too many poorly designed ones.”

I was in a meeting recently and I counted 35 people, 28 with their laptops open.  About 10 appeared to be following the talk going on at that time.  Every talk is a powerpoint-style presentation where the speaker essentially reads the slides to the audience.  The question periods after each talk are the one redeeming feature, but they don’t fully redeem most meetings, not even close.

I think that with the large size of our organization, it is necessary to have a lot of meetings for coordination and dissemination of information, but the current number of meetings we have on ATLAS is staggering (about 5,000 in 2007).  I checked and there were about 6,800 in 2008 with 30,000 presentations.

In the article linked above, two of the author’s guidelines are:

  • Whoever calls a meeting should be explicit about its objectives.

On ATLAS we have weeks (like the current one) every few months where we review the progress of the past few months and lay out the plans for the next few months. Since these are high profile meetings, everyone wants to give a talk, and the meetings wind up being long and unfocused. One meeting this week was scheduled to go from 9am to 6:20pm. And one of the grad students from my group had the talk he had prepared postponed due to lack of time (it was already 7:30pm when this happened)!

  • Everyone should think carefully about the opportunity costs of a meeting: How many participants are really needed?  How long should the meeting last?

People often attend meetings out of a feeling of obligation.  And very few meetings end on time.

Fortunately for our productivity, with wireless internet in most meeting rooms, most people are just doing the work they would have been doing in their office, on their laptop in the meeting.  And in fact I think this is the ultimate cause of the explosion in the number of meetings. I gave a presentation this week, and it was pretty dispiriting to look around the room and see mostly tops of heads instead of faces as people were looking at their laptops.

So the solution is simple.  There would be many fewer, very productive, meetings if one simple rule was enacted:  No laptops in meetings! This is not going to happen.  Good thing I have a good laptop.

But seriously, the solution is on the way. ATLAS has formed a committee to review ATLAS meetings and hopefully reduce the number of meetings. And this committee on meetings has scheduled some meetings in the near future.

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