A Burden Called Meetings

December 9th, 2010

I’ve been working for an enterprise corporation for 5+ years, which I’m going to be leaving soon. This organization is suffering from a wide-spread malady called “meetingitis”. This phenomenon bothers me from time to time, especially when I’m being pulled in those pointless meetings, wandering about the same thing over and over again without coming to a conclusion or a solution. Then there are also those kinds of meetings where you don’t have anything to say or contribute; these are just a complete waste of time.

Yesterday, Yves pointed me out on Twitter that it is perfectly fine to leave a meeting if you feel that you’re not able to gain or contribute anything. Today, I walked out of a meeting where one of the participants started making insults against me. I just stood up, walked to the door and left. And I must say that it felt liberating doing so. I went back to my desk, calmed down and got some actual work done. Without a basic form of respect, one simply can’t achieve anything, let alone come to win-win agreements. From now on, I’ll be evaluating all meetings that require my presence before I accept them and also keep evaluating my presence while being there.

Let me close of this mini-rant by sharing a must-see recording of a talk called “Why work doesn’t happen at work” by Jason Fried. I recommend you watch this short video, and if you like it, I also recommend picking up a copy of Rework.

I hereby rest my case.

  • http://robwells.name Rob

    Meetings are *very* good for one main reason:
    – Understanding what the “team” is doing so to avoid working in a vacuum .

    As with everything in life meetings must be in moderation. It sounds like you have suffered from being “over served”.

  • http://elegantcode.com David Starr

    My former employer made it clear to all that the criteria you mentioned was to be used. If you weren’t getting or giving value in a meeting, leave and go back to work.

    I can’t say that all took it to heart, but it made it okay for those who did to leave without penalty or reprisal.

  • Steve Py

    Meetings (referring to traditional sit-downs, not 15 min stand-ups) can be effective if they are held properly. But to be effective they need the following things:
    1) Agenda – Outlining what will be discussed, and for how long.
    2) Moderator – a “Speaker of the House” to ensure that the agenda is followed. Notes anything extra that will be taken offline.
    3) Rules – Such as only one person can be speaking at a time. No cross-talk, no interrupting.
    4) The right people – The only people that should be there are people that need to be there. If someone’s needed and unavailable then the meeting is rescheduled.

    That last one is usually the hardest to get by managers. They’ll want to have one big meeting rather than several small ones. This might save them a little time, but costs the organization a lot more in wasted time with larger agendas and for people that don’t need to be there for the whole thing, topic blow-outs, and comments from chickens instead of pigs.

    I’ve only been in two organizations that had remotely effective meetings. I walk out of, or refuse to go to several meetings a year. (Being a contractor helps, there is a more clear perception of time = cost with managers.)

  • Rick

    I used to work at AT&T in Austin, where they had meetings about meetings, and I used to beg to actually do some work. It amazes me how some companies get even a little work done at all…