Confessions of a meeting hater

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.

 

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Uncovering so-called ‘truths’

It’s been two weeks since I last published a post. All I can say is I’ve been very busy, I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. But I’m not going to make this a habit; I do plan to continue updating my blog weekly, like I’ve done so far. In case anyone was very worried. Or noticed.

One of the things that has kept me busy lately is teaching, and yesterday I taught what must have been my most inspirational class so far, at least for me. I’m teaching a course in HRM (human resource management) and this particular lecture was on power and control in organizations, and who knew that this would really make the students tick. They had so many insightful thoughts and comments that they shared with me and I have to say, I really enjoyed our dialogue.

But what was most interesting was our discussion on so-called ‘truths’. We were talking about the societal structures and systems in which we are embedded; structures and systems that we take for granted and that we have lost the ability to question or even see – much less change – because they have become ‘truths’. It’s the things we think of as obvious, natural, or common sense, partly because we think that’s they way they have always been. But let me tell you something, they haven’t always been that way and they aren’t natural; people have created them. They aren’t meant to be, they are just the way we have assumed things should be done for as long as we can remember.

Now I asked my students to think of so called ‘truths’ in society, things we take for granted, and to think about whether or not they have to be truths and whether things could be done differently. This was the absolute best part of the whole class. Time just ran out too quickly and I’m thinking of dedicating a whole lecture to this in the future, because it is just so interesting. But here are some of the things they came up with:

  • Growth and productivity are not necessarily something to strive for.
  • The concept of de-growth is interesting, but de-growth as a word is problematic because we will always continue growing and evolving as people and societies. You can’t unlearn or ‘undevelop’, you can only go forward. So even if your goal is not to continuously grow, it still doesn’t involve regressing to a previous state.
  • Careers do not have to progress upwards. They can go forwards, backwards, sideways…
  • Women are not necessarily family oriented. However men might be.
  • The way we teach in schools is not necessarily the best way to teach. It might not be providing us will the skills we really need. We need to question our education system.
  • Democracy may not be the best way. We need to come up with a new system because if we continue the way we are society is going self-destruct.

You get the idea.

I was pleased of course because my students and I shared an interest and we engaged in a really meaningful discussion. But what pleases me even more is that they are so open to thinking critically and questioning the status quo. I sincerely hope that they retain this ability once they embark on their careers and become assimilated in organizational working cultures. Because this is something that we should all do more of. Whenever something is obvious, whenever we know something to be true, we should all stop and question. We need to ask ourselves – and each other – why? Why does it have to be that way? And the fantastic thing is that it doesn’t. It doesn’t have to be that way, we only thought it did. And that my friends, that is how change comes about. Change for the better.

My five-minute diary

A friend of mine challenged me about a month ago. She challenged me to start keeping a five-minute diary. Apparently the five-minute diary is an established concept where you at bedtime, and possibly also in the morning I can’t really remember, spend five minutes writing down positive thoughts or the positive things you’ve experienced during the day. Just quick bullet points. The reason she suggested it was that I was talking about how when thing are very hectic, and let’s face, in this day and age they mostly are, I feel like everything I experience during the day just disappears from my consciousness. I may be very present in the moment but then when I move on and start doing something else it almost feels like it never was. So she suggested writing these things that I wanted to remember down in order not only to be able to actually remember them, but also to give me a chance to reflect.

Well, it sounded like a good idea to me so I accepted the challenge, but a modified version of it. I don’t like the idea of just writing down positive thoughts. I’m interested in all my thoughts and experiences, whether positive or negative or something else. It is not only the positive that is meaningful. Without reflecting over the whole range of emotions I experience, I don’t think I would ever grow as a person, and honestly I think it would make life kind of boring. Besides I find that it is especially in the contradictions that real learning and development takes place. It is in those moments that you actually learn something about yourself.

This constant striving for positivity that you see all over the place gets to me. Sometimes I see 365 days of positivity challenges circulate, sometimes it’s three positive things per day seven days in a row. Positivity is positively all the rage in this day an age. It actually stems from the positive psychology movement that came about at the end of the 1990’s about the time motivational speaking became so popular. Positivity became the answer to career success, to health, to life. However, although being positive is a good thing in many situations, and I would say I’m generally pretty optimistic myself, there really isn’t a lot of empirical evidence to support that positive psychology really works. On the contrary, it is argued that striving for constant positivity can, instead of leading to success, actually make people feel like failures when they just can’t live up to expectations and be positive all the time because they are experiencing the whole range of emotions, which is natural and necessary in life. (See The search for happiness for more on why this is problematic.)*

So I accepted the challenge, but with modifications. I said that instead of listing only positive things, I would write down the three most important things or thoughts that I experienced each day. And that is what I’ve been doing almost every evening for the past month or so. Sometimes I forget, but mostly I don’t. It doesn’t take long although I sometimes have trouble sticking to only three points, so I’ve discarded that rule. I write as many points as I want; sometimes it’s three and sometimes it’s more, but I don’t think I’ve ever written more than five or six. Sticking to bullet points is actually quite liberating because it keeps it short and I don’t try to outdo myself composing well-written diary entries, which I wouldn’t have the energy to do every evening. Sometimes my points are work related, often not. Sometimes it’s just something beautiful that I’ve seen or an interesting thought I’ve had. Sometimes I write about positive things or things I’m thankful for, sometimes it’s things I’m frustrated or feeling very ambiguous over. I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing these thoughts as I keep it short, so I’m a bit unsure of what the long run benefits are going to be, but for the moment at least it feels meaningful. This five-minute diary gives me a chance to reflect over the day, and remember the things worth remembering. And capture time in a notebook.

So thank you my friend! I’m pretty sure I would never have come up with this myself.

 

* I can also recommend one of my favorite books: Psychobabble: Exploding the Myths of the Self-Help Generation by Stephen Briers. Or if you’re really interested: Virtues and Vices in Positive Psychology: A Philosophical Critique by Kristján Kristjánsson (available on Google books)