Matt Morgan and Peter Brindley: Meetings⁠—where minutes are kept and hours lost

It is estimated that meetings add less than 5% to productivity, are mostly about status management, and contribute to 70% of workers feeling disengaged. [1] Oh well, no time for such thoughts: it’s off to the monthly medical meeting. You’re not working clinically, but are dragged back to the hospital. At least you can sport your latest hipster t-shirt rather than those crumpled scrubs. Others dress in Lycra bike shorts that leave nothing to the imagination. Regardless, it’s time to ingest stale coffee, squint at a blurry screen, and balance on a wipeable chair: Let the predictable pantomime begin! But will everyone remember their lines?

Act one

Scene one: The mandatory IT delay

The organiser fumbles with a broken remote control, and cycles through countless menus: “VGA1,” “VGA2,” “AUX,” “Laptop,” “HDMI”. The screen stays as black as the coffee. Attendees mutter awkwardly as wires are un-plugged, blown on, and returned to the same hole. The organiser becomes increasingly red-faced; enter the IT saviour. You worked in Dixons at age 16 and know the dark arts of video projection. You move in, pop a battery in the remote control, and, voila, the screen is resuscitated to a bright white light. You believe you are a hero. Others silently disagree; after all this meeting was close to being cancelled. Ten minutes in, nothing yet achieved.

Scene two: For those calling in from home

An iPhone is balanced on the table and its volume turned to max. Battery power might be at 5%, but let’s give it a go. Multiple passwords are tried, before a picture of a dog eventually appears. At this point the script is as familiar and it is farcical:

“We see you but can’t hear you” 

“Try logging out and logging back in”

“Is the Wifi better in the kitchen?”

Finally, the video becomes clear, and the sound becomes ear-shatteringly loud. An important point is made right as the video connection dies. Twenty minutes in; surely there is more to life than this. 

Scene three: This will never work

It’s time to hear from “the voice.” Namely, that person who has worked more shifts that you have had hot lunches, has saved lives using nothing but a rusty spoon, and even remembers life before flat whites. With both eyes on retirement, he has little time for new initiatives that are really just recycled old ones. Nowadays, he takes delight in saying things that would get new hires struck off yet he receives admiration and the odd bottle of wine in return. 

Act two

Scene one: Why is he even here?

Our next protagonist cares more about the Wifi code and little about the agenda. His power cord is stretched across the entire floor and he has commandeered the room’s only socket. He noisily taps computer keys, and repeatedly checks his beloved phone. He might be studiously taking notes, but is likely just shopping on Amazon. Forty minutes in: if only we had arranged to be paged out. 

Act three

Scene one: Not so fast

Discussion about the clinical rota has concluded, and that contentious checklist has been okayed. A détente is reached that would impress the UN security council. “Onto the second agenda item” says the organizer at which point several actors burst into song: “uhm, just returning to the last topic, am I right in thinking that . . .?” No, dear colleague, you’re wrong, dead wrong, and you would know that if you had been listening. “Perhaps we’ll move on” states the frazzled organizer, “well I think this needs more discussion” the others reply. Fifty minutes in; thank goodness there are no sharp objects nearby. 

Scene two: Crisis averted 

Near the end of our play a villain enters in a cloud of paper and to a cacophony of pages. He collapses into the last empty seat, and is passed the agenda that he has clearly not pre-read. He tries unsuccessfully to obtain a few drips of coffee, and is just about to bite into the last stale muffin when he remembers another meeting he needs to be at. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief that they will be spared his attempt to highjack the agenda. He leaves and likely won’t be heard from for months. The meeting has now reached its allotted 60 minutes: time to conclude the performance.

Closing scene

 “Right, the next meeting is during half term, shall we meet anyway?”

“YES!” is the unanimous reply.

“Any future agenda items?”

“Can we talk about whether these meetings are truly useful” says a quiet voice in the back.

“Sorry, there’s simply no time”. 

Curtain drops, exit stage left. 

Matt Morgan, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Cardiff University, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Research and Development lead in Critical Care at University Hospital of Wales, and an editor of BMJ OnExamination.
Twitter @dr_mattmorgan
Competing interests: None declared

Peter Brindley, Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Medical Ethics, Anesthesiology at University of Alberta, Canada.
Twitter: @docpgb
Competing interests: None declared

[1]  Bruce Daisley is the European VP for Twitter. He hosts the podcast Eat Sleep Work Repeat ad has authored the book “The Joy of Work”.