Science - January 15, 2004

‘Keep it short and sweet, but don’t cut down on contacts’

Predicting a difficult year ahead for Wageningen UR, chairman of the board Aalt Dijkhuizen suggested last week that the research institutes would do well to spend less time in meetings. Wb tested the waters this week and found that opinions were divided.

Dr Henk Heessen, project leader at the Netherlands Institute for Fisheries Research:
“I spend about one day a week in meetings, and I don’t think that can be reduced. We have a big department and you have to communicate with each other.”

Dr Huib Silvis, head of department for Social Issues, LEI:
“I have to go to a meeting now. Tomorrow morning I’ll have time.”

Dr Jan Klijn, senior researcher at Alterra:
“I liked Dijkhuizen’s comment, especially that we shouldn’t have meetings to decide which meetings we should abandon. I have to say that recently I haven’t been spending too much time in meetings. I would say that I spend less than one day a week in real meetings, where everyone is present and there’s coffee available. You can always cut down on meetings, but I don’t think we should start cutting out whole meetings. You have to watch out that you don’t lose your contacts. I think there’s more to be gained by improving discipline in meetings. Sometimes you go to meetings where everyone gradually slumps down in their chair, and that’s no good. I would say, keep it short and sweet, but don’t cut down on contacts.”

Dr Huib Silvis, the following morning:
“Oh, that’s it, we were going to talk about meetings. How often do I have meetings. I think about half of my time is spent in meetings. We have got rid of some meetings, like the department-wide one, which has been replaced by a written bulletin about decisions that have been taken. But we have found that sometimes too few meetings take place. The department heads at LEI have decided to meet more often, because we felt there was too little communication. Since the formation of the Sciences Group management has become further removed from the work floor.”

Dr Corné Kempenaar, project leader for weed control at Plant Research International:
“I see quite a meeting circuit around me. Many of the meetings take place because of a fear of missing the boat. The institutes are made up of smaller groups, and each one needs to keep afloat. The heads of the groups are therefore often present at meetings because they are afraid that their interest will not be represented otherwise. Could it be done differently? I think you need stricter direction from higher up, so the people on the work floor don’t need to get so involved.”

Korné Versluis