It was at my first job after graduating from business school – very many years ago – that I realized how much I hate meetings. I was part of the marketing team at this company and although my colleagues were the nicest people to work with, our meetings were an absolute pain in the rear end. Figuratively and literally – we would sit around for hours and although I really didn’t have a lot of experience of corporate cultures and meetings at the time, something told me that this just can’t be right. I felt like I was wasting hours of my life being bored to death while work was piling up on my desk in my absence. Now, many years later, I have a better idea of what exactly the problem was. There was no proper agenda, things that weren’t relevant to everyone in the room and that everyone really didn’t need to be involved in were discussed at great length. It was just bad meeting culture.
Well, I’ve pretty much hated meetings ever since, although I haven’t been able to admit it until a few years ago (around the time I opted out and decided I don’t want or have to do things in a certain way just because it’s what is expected). I guess one reason I didn’t dare declare my negative feelings about meetings was because I was a part of a working culture where meetings seemed to be the backbone around which everyone’s days and weeks were organized. I suppose I kind of didn’t want to criticize the hand that fed me. But the truth is I do hate meetings. I find they generally get scheduled too often, for too long, with too many people. The discussion is slow and much of it is irrelevant to many of the people there and it makes me feel antsy because instead of being productive, these meetings are mostly time away from things that I need (and want) to be doing instead. And last but not least, they are often just excruciatingly boring.
Well, yesterday morning as I was checking my Facebook newsfeed, I saw an article published in New York Times Magazine titled ‘Meet is Murder’, which of course was very satisfying reading for me. Articles like this give me hope. I feel like there is a growing awareness about the toxicity of bad meeting culture as I increasingly see articles like this. Although based on the meeting behavior I continue to see around me, I’m starting to suspect that what we’re dealing with is not so much a cultural revolution, rather just Facebook being very good at knowing what kinds of things I like and putting them in my newsfeed. But either way, there seems to be some sort of discussion about this going on and that is good!
I once read a very intriguing suggestion for conducting meetings in Wired. It was a couple of years ago and unfortunately I didn’t keep it, but it really stuck with me. The idea was to treat team meetings as sports huddles. Do not book a meeting room. Meet in the corridor standing up. Each team member briefly updates the others on: (1) what they are working on at the moment, (2) how it is going, and (3) what they are planning to do next. The huddle should take no more than 10-15 minutes and then everyone continues on their way. If someone has a problem that he or she needs help with, then book a time and place to solve that particular problem with the relevant people.
I really liked that. Meeting for 10 minutes standing up in the corridor for a quick status update. That I can do.
So, is there anyone else out there who hates traditional meetings as much as I do? Let’s do something about it then. Let’s make meeting culture meaningful. Because you know what? Meet really shouldn’t have to be murder.