When you need to speak to someone urgently, as happens on occasions in the newspaper world, getting the response "they are in a meeting" is not very helpful. Asking whether there is a telephone extension in the meeting room sometimes breaks through the barrier, but some companies have lost the chance of free product promotion or a good order because people were in a meeting.
Meetings are fine if they have a good chair and/or secretary, agenda and back-up information. After all, most of the work should have been done beforehand, committee members’ opinions sought and consensus agreed before they start.
I like to see the person in charge go around the table, giving everyone a chance to express their view, take a vote and move on. If there are 15 committee members, each one limited to a few minutes, it means only two subjects are covered in an hour. The more time spent communicating ahead of the meeting, the shorter this time should be.
Often at trade associations, charity organisations and similar meetings, people will have travelled some distance and I find it aggravating for time to be wasted with social chit chat that can be done either before the start time or after the meeting closes.
Who trains people in efficient ways to supervise meetings and should every meeting have an allotted time? There are buyers for leading companies who have a diary filled with very short time slots for people to enter their office, state their business and move out ready for the next appointment.
Now we have rapid exchange of views via email, do we need so many face-to-face meetings? I would not be without them because there is nothing like looking people in the eye. They are, however, a luxury, seldom produce something valuable during the actual meeting and need to be kept short.
We regularly elect officers to committees, but who checks that they are well equipped to manage meetings? Is there such a thing as a training course to chair committees or does that involve yet another meeting?
Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster