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A Culture of Meetings

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46Earlier this week I received an email from a colleague complaining about the meeting culture at his organization. He said, “I am tired of everyone stealing my workdays!” It reminded me of the esteemed economist, Thomas Sowell, who once remarked that “people who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”

Years ago, I worked as a manager for an organization that was great in most ways, but it had one fatal flaw: the people loved to meet. In fact, they met so often that it was more remarkable when I didn’t have a meeting scheduled. My colleague and I had to block time off to work offsite just so someone would not schedule a meeting to fill the space (which they inevitably would). Frequently, I would spend time before and after hours catching up on email and doing actual work, because most of my office time was spent sitting around a conference table.

The need to meet too frequently can be a sign of organizational insecurity. People may not feel empowered to make decisions, or they may fear being left out of an important conversation. Another cause may be as simple as being in a culture of extroverts. Some people find meetings recharging (this is nearly unthinkable to the rest of us). It is easy to confuse effort with results, so sitting in a half-day meeting can begin to seem like productivity.

Velociteach has built a decidedly anti-meeting culture. Here, meetings are a necessary evil. We value collaboration, but we do not value the act of meeting. This is an important part of our corporate DNA. It is very rare for a meeting to be scheduled for more than an hour, and most meetings end up being shorter than their scheduled time.

If you are overwhelmed by meetings, remember Ghandi’s sage advice to “be the change you want to see in this world.” Start by modeling the right behavior for the rest of the team. Treat everyone’s time as a precious resource. Publish an agenda, and stick to it. Turn laptops, tablets, and phones off. One of the most important things we work hard to implement is starting and stopping on time. One of the great contributions from the Agile community is to have “stand-up” meetings limited to 15 minutes. While that may not work for many situations, it does set the stage for a short meeting.

Changing the culture of an organization takes time, but it should always begin by setting the right example in your own behavior and approach.

2 responses to “A Culture of Meetings”

  1. Reemah says:

    I had a job that had mandatory 3 hour daily meeting before we work. Every day. After that we get to work. Every week 15 hours spent in the same meeting. I think to myself that no one could work this way.

  2. Andy Crowe says:

    Reemah, for about one year I had a four-hour meeting every Friday morning that was the most painfully boring meeting imaginable, but you clearly get the prize. I would love to know what you possibly needed to discuss for three hours every work day.

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