Not so much about the fact that they exist (well, yes, people are hating on that), but “how” they exist. Because all too often they are sources of dysfunction, rather than progress.
Enter Al Pittampalli and his new book “Read This Before Our Next Meeting,” which seeks to change the way meetings happen (or stop happening) in a effort to return a bit of sanity to the process of progress.
With permission, I’m excited to be able to share this excerpt.
Traditional Meetings Kill Our Sense of Urgency
When did we lose our fire? When did we get so comfortable? I used to come into work with a promise to myself, a commitment to do work that matters. But having been unsuccessful in fulfilling that promise in the short windows between meetings, I now come into work with the hope of surviving the day.
I wonder when we’ll realize what a trap we’ve set for ourselves. Regularly interrupting the day to bring our best minds together to focus on the urgent makes it impossible for these people to spend their focused energy on what’s actually important. We have created a culture designed to survive the urgent by watering it down, instead of challenging our best to step up and lead us to do the important.
Peter Drucker tells us that meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization. We either meet or work. We can’t do both at the same time. Real work is what moves us forward. Work that involves action, struggle, and effort. It’s that output that puts us closer to winning. If the mission could speak, it would constantly tell us, “get back to work.”
The most talented among us know that they best serve the organization by making things. We add value only by producing work that contributes directly toward our goals and by initiating amazing work that wasn’t even asked of us. Instead, we’re pulled into meetings.
David Heinemer Hansson, from 37 Signals, says meetings are toxic because they break workdays into a series of work moments. Achieving flow, the state in which we do our best work, can take long periods of focus. Interruptions force us to start over each time.
I’m tired of starting over.
Efficient systems should be organized around the output that wants to be optimized: in our case, the work. But with so many meetings called, it’s as if our work is organized around our meetings instead.
Sometimes, when I’m called into a meeting, I wonder what could possibly be so urgent that it pulls me away from my real work. As with the yellow “BREAKING NEWS” banner that appears on CNN every time I turn it on, I’m skeptical. And after the meeting is over and I’m forced to confront the truth that no, there was no real urgency, I’m disappointed, angry. I feel betrayed.
This false urgency is echoed in three common meeting types:
- Convenience meetings
- Formality meetings
- Social meetings
Convenience meetings: Meetings called because it’s difficult to capture everything we want to say effectively in writing, quickly. These meetings rarely add any more value than a memo would have. In fact, they’re worse because in addition to wasting time, they rely on nonverbal communication that’s hard to refer to later on.
Formality meetings: Meetings called by managers who think it’s their job to hold them. It doesn’t matter whether these meetings are designed to give off the appearance of control and productivity, or whether they’re a way for managers to subtly exert their status; in either case, these meetings are wasteful. Even if having convening members get together to share advice or status reports results in some incremental benefit, it pales in comparison to the cost of the interruption.
Social meetings: Meetings for the purpose of connection. We sometimes call social meetings without even realizing it. I’m guilty of this myself. Unfortunately, social meetings quickly turn circular and expand to fit the time. You might want to slow down and chat, but perhaps not everyone in the room has the same goals (or time) that you do.
So, curious, how do YOU feel about meetings?
Do you agree with Al’s assessment?
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