Mintzberg, Managers, and Meetings

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

For about twenty-five years now I have been lecturing students about the work of Henry Mintzberg. During the 1970s, Mintzberg published a ground-breaking piece of research that was instantly recognised as a management classic. Building upon a very small sample of Executive decision-makers (literally a hand full of diaries), Mintzberg basically explained just why it is that managers seem to spend so much time in meetings. On January 2nd 2017, I became Head of Suffolk Business School. As a consequence I stopped teaching this…and started living it.

Today my working day started just after 7am. I had an 8am meeting scheduled and arrived early to get a head-start on the day (there are ALWAYS e-mails). I was in truth not too bothered by the prospect of this early meeting because I had been promised that it would commence and be built around bacon rolls. The problem being that I never made it to the meeting. Something came up that required my attention so I had to forgo breakfast. Having resolved this issue I then picked up a cup of coffee and a manuscript that the editor of Organization has invited me to review.

I read the paper and made some notes (it’s quite good but needs some further analytical and structural development) preparatory to the completion of the formal review that I will submit some time over the next few weeks. At 09:30 I met with colleagues from HRM and when this meeting concluded it was time to speak with a colleague from Portugal who will, I hope, visit the University in May. When I complete this blog post I will scuttle off to a meeting convened to discuss student recruitment. Later I will ‘catch-up’ with the Deputy Head of School and with my very patient PA before I have another meeting with HR.

This is pretty much how my days unfold. So just why do managers spend so much time in meetings? I thought you might ask this…

Mintzberg. Photo (C)

Mintzberg suggests that managers spend so much of each day in face-to-face meetings simply because this is about the best means of securing managerial ends and processes. But why is this is the case? It’s simple really: Mintzberg suggests that managing yourself and managing others is challenging and rewarding because this sort of work involves an on-going negotiation as to a) what should be done b) who should actually do this and c) who should cover the cost. And in complex hierarchies with limited budgets – such as, say, the University of Suffolk – this is perhaps more complex than you might imagine because there will be lots of managers; lots of managerial goals; lots of alternative courses of action and consequently many different ways in which the ‘right thing’ to do might be conceptualised and pursued.

But on Monday…my diary looks a little more relaxed…because on Monday I will be in a tiny rural village in south-west France en vancances. The village is tiny but it is steeped in history: The great French politician Gambetta attended school in this village. But this place has for me an altogether more alluring appeal for I will be staying in a house that has no land-line, no internet access and only an intermittent mobile telephone signal.

You see, those who manage also need to set time aside for reflection, so before my travelling companions awaken I will spend a part of each morning revising a now overdue manuscript on management gurus. When I return I might share a little of this reflection. Until then…adieu!