I’m sitting in Kevin Hoffman‘s session at UI18 on Running Better Meetings. He makes good arguments about facilitation and visual thinking and how they impact the quality of what happens during meetings.

But after my experience at WordPress.com, where meetings were rare, I now struggle to comprehend how many meetings most workplaces have. What evidence is there that we need these things? Many people complain about how much time they spend in meetings, yet the meetings go on.

Even back at Microsoft I had this rule about recurring meetings: at meeting birth, it should be planned that they will die. They will stop being useful at some point. But many of us suffer through zombie meetings, that live on in an undead state forever. Often there is one person who feels powerful in the meeting, and they will keep feeding the zombie with the coworker’s brains just to preserve that feeling.

The frequency and nature of meetings is an artifact of culture. An organization with long, or frequent, status meetings expresses the micromanagement in the culture. I once worked on a team that had 2 hour status meetings every friday. You could hear souls dying, or killing themselves, every fifteen minutes.

Creative meetings with 10 or 15 people in the room expresses a lack of trust of creatives. Too many cooks, rather than a lack of talent, expresses why so many organizations produce mediocre work. You can’t find or deliver on a vision if a dozen people all have equal say on defining it.

All leaders bring with them a culture of practice around meetings. In every bad meeting there is usually only one person with the power to end it, or redesign it. Often only that manager needs the meeting, even if just to stroke their own ego, and as long as they desire it the meeting will continue, whether it’s needed or not. Someone has to stand up and say: can we try working without this meeting for a week, and see what happens? Even if the meeting returns, everyone will see more clearly what the true value it has for getting real work done.

Also See: The 22 minute meeting

 

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4 Responses to “Do You Need That Meeting?”

  1. Phil Simon |

    Meeting seem to beget meetings. Company size seems to play a huge part, as does culture. I’ve often walked out of meetings amazed. If I had to go to my manager and ask for an hour’s worth of my salary, I’d be embarrassed. As you write in “Pants”, you clearly don’t need meetings to be productive.

    Reply
  2. Sean Crawford |

    Luckily, I work in the most functional agency in the city started up by a mother who didn’t like the usual bureaucratic nonsense. We started out of a “house” with office space, now we are the second largest agency for supporting adults with disabilities in town.

    Which means I can’t relate to all the talk on the internet of people hating meetings.

    At work I’m not a senior executive, so I don’t attend their meetings, but I went around asking them and they said their meetings were functional and the stuff they decide on gets implemented. I guess we have a culture of common sense.
    And I guess a culture of integrity vs bull starts at the top.
    For culture, it helps that (thanks to me) our CEO has to fill out any new form being proposed for any part of the agency. We remain very light on paperwork!

    Scott, I’ve just checked: your “Making Things Happen/Project Management” book does not reference Robert Townsend’s “Up the Organization.” (1970) Townsend’s book, as funny as the title suggests, is a how-to on having integrity, fun and excellence, written by the man who came to Avis Rent A Car when it had been losing money 12 years in a row and got it into the black in one year.

    Come to think of it, like WordPress not doing e-mail, Townsend didn’t believe in company memos (memorandums, with carbon copies)

    I’m sure his book was a best seller back in the day, but… I guess meetings are like corporations: less competent ndividuals know what to do, they just can’t do it.

    Reply
  3. Daniel H. (Germany) |

    Hi Scott,

    I work at a rather large company (automotive supplier, ~4000 employees in my local facility) in a development team with ~20 team members.

    I’ve thought a bit about your post during the last week and found two purposes for meetings where I consider them highly helpful and wouldn’t want to go without them.

    A) Figuring out what to do
    Assume a problem is at hand and the team needs to figure out what a) exactly is the problem, b) what steps can be taken to solve it and c) which direction should be taken in development. What we’ll do in this case is just gather everyone involved in a meeting room and have a discussion untill there is an agreement on a, b and c.

    B) share information with everyone
    Assume a team works on 20 ongoing projects for 10 different customers in various stages of development and with different groups within the team (e.g. construction + testing). Having regular status meetings is a rather efficient way of ensuring that everyone has an – at least broad – overview of all the topics currently going on. I’ll agree that there is a high danger of wasting a lot of time with these meetings but this is probably where the advice from the session you originally mentioned comes in.

    Can you suggest alternatives that might replace the meetings we do for the cases I’ve mentioned?

    Greetings, Daniel

    Reply
  1. […] Scott Berkun on zombie meetings: “Often there is one person who … will keep feeding the zombie with the coworker’s brains just to preserve that feeling [of power].” […]

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