Meetings. “None of us is as dumb as all of us.”

Best quote ever from www.despair.com. And how true it is.

There are several kinds of meetings and there are many variations thereof. If you are lucky, you get an agenda in advance and some type of objective/reason you are meeting. If you are very lucky, the agenda goes as planned. If you are very very lucky, you actually achieve the objective you wanted to achieve, assuming there was an objective in the first place.

What typically happens, you are attending a meeting with a regular vague agenda; one that requires everyone to provide an update on their projects, tasks, etc.. These are typically a waste of time since no one really understands the detail of the content unless they really need to so. The people that do understand what you are talking about are already close to the subject at hand and do not need the general group update.

I understand the need for people to come together and meet. As human beings, we have to come together and make decisions or discuss things. However, where it starts to fail is with the actual execution of a meeting. Even if you aren’t in the corporate world, I am sure you can relate to this:

Where do you want to eat?
I don’t know, where do you want to eat?
Wherever you want.
Do you have a taste for anything?
No, do you?

And so on. This is between 2 friends trying to figure out something simple like where to eat dinner. Imagine a group of 10 people that are most likely not friends (and may not even like each other at all), trying to solve a complex issue. It starts to sound more like this:

There is a big problem that we have to discuss as a group.
We need your help since we cannot make this type of decision on our own.
We are going to recommend some options and we intend to come up with a solution!
But before that, I will be sharing 55 Power Point slides with the background.
(On slide 1, debate ensues)
Well, we had discussed that in our last meeting but you weren’t there.
Well I don’t agree with the facts.
So that makes our recommended solution useless at this point.

End of meeting. Typically these last an hour or more. This is time out of people’s lives that they will never get back. Keep in mind, that getting ready for this meeting involved countless hours upon hours of preparation with many people from all functions of the company. These “decision-making” meetings typically result in the leadership team sending the working team back to do more analysis. Better yet, more analysis with a complete change in scope. They usually have an acronym with “LT” in them (i.e., leadership team),

In addition to these common corporate “decision-making” meetings, my other favorite kind of meeting is the “Town Hall” meeting. Most corporations act like they care about your opinion and hold “Town Hall” meetings. This typically consists of several high-powered executives getting up in front of a large audience with Power Point presentations detailing old financial information (since nothing current can be revealed due to regulatory restrictions) and what we will do to resolve any “gaps to plan”. This also usually involves charts with so much information that no one can read. They usually state that as well, “Now, you can’t read this, but…..”. Again, none of this is at all relevant since the data is 3 months old.

An entertaining part of these types of meetings are the “Q and A” portions. I love when people (typically from the outside of the corporate office, a.k.a., “the field”) ask questions that will never be honestly answered such as, “Will our location close?” or “Are our jobs safe?”. Seriously these happen all the time.

But I still have to comment about regular project team meetings. My calendar is filled with them. Actually, most of them, I schedule and lead but I am still aghast at how much time is wasted. I follow all the rules; I put out an agenda in advance of the meeting, I solicit participation, I “go around the horn” and have everyone speak up at the end and I always publish notes with actions and due dates. But it doesn’t really matter. People forget the context and most likely weren’t paying attention anyway so none of it actually entered their brains. I literally have to tell people to stop typing and multi-tasking if there is something I want them to actually absorb.

To be fair, I catch myself doing the same things.  I ask the same question every week and sometimes repeat things that have already been said earlier in the meeting.  Weeks after a decision was made I question the reasoning and take us back to explain for the tenth time why the decision was made.  I know I am a guilty party.  I am on my iPhone and checking emails during meetings like everyone else.

How to solve this dilemma? If I had the answer, I wouldn’t be sitting in a cubicle after work hours writing this blog post making fun of our corporate world. I believe we have to laugh at the craziness around us to survive. People that take themselves too seriously are the ones to stay away from, in my opinion.  But then what do I know?  Maybe we need a meeting to discuss…..

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