HR & Management

Five lessons from David Brent about what NOT to do in meetings

3 min read

22 November 2014

What can we learn from The Office's David Brent about what not to in meetings? Here are five lessons.

I read a fascinating piece by Phoebe Luckhurst in London’s Evening Standard, discussing how boardroom meetings are wasting companies’ time and money. According to Nest CEO Tony Fadell, it costs his company between $50-100,000 in salaries to host them – so it’s obviously important to get them right. 

I’m sure we’ve all been to a meeting where we have no idea what’s going on and nothing seems to be resolved by it. None of us more so than the characters of trans-Atlantic TV success story, The Office. But what can we learn from our own David Brent about what NOT to do in meetings?

1. DON’T turn up unannounced and expect people to be ready to deliver what you need them to. Blocking out a clear and convenient time for all parties is essential so people have time to prepare, “call ahead” (particularly if you no longer work for the company!).

2. DON’T pretend you didn’t receive the agenda like David did when sat in a meeting and asked if he had anything to add to the agenda, which he had thrown in the bin upon receiving. People need to know why they’re giving up their time and what’s expected of them so they can prepare appropriately. If you’re in charge, create and share an agenda in advance.

3. NO long solos – Meetings should be a collaborative discussion, not a forum for one person to take centre stage to voice their personal opinions or drown out others (or sing the Free Love Freeway with an acoustic guitar). Ensure you give everyone the chance to share their thoughts, maybe even asking individuals to run certain sections – and always welcome contributions. Definitely don’t ask people to “get out” if they question what you’re saying – remember that challenging thoughts and opinions is what often leads to better, more informed ideas and decisions.

4. AVOID sitting down – for each and every meeting, while the most senior person in the room stands up at the front leading – in David Brent’s case dubiously. Standing up keeps people engaged and energised. Allen Bluedorn, a professor at the University of Missouri, conducted a survey in 1998 that found that although standing meetings are typically shorter than sitting meetings, they still contain roughly the same quality of decision-making.

5. DON’T whisper or talk across people – even if you’re hiding your face behind your hand. And definitely don’t tolerate this behaviour from others. If you’re organising the meeting, be confident about asking people to wait for a moment to let another finish their point rather than interrupting. Encourage those who often stay quiet to contribute by specifically asking them for their opinion on a matter.

Nicola Frazer-Reid is marketing manager UK & NEMEA at Mindjet.