Meetings SuckNov 12, 2009 In Web Culture By Nishant Kothary
Is it just me, or has the culture around meetings in the workplace spun out of control? Meetings are like a plague at large companies like Microsoft, and I’ve just about had it. I’m constantly holding back my twitching index finger from clicking “Decline” when someone turns an ongoing email thread into a meeting invite.
Cornering people in a room in front of a whiteboard isn’t going to solve the problem. That’s because meetings don’t solve problems — people do. And they all do it differently.
Solution vs. Consensus
A meeting is supposed to facilitate a solution. Maybe even the “best” solution. Sometimes this process takes a few minds, but let’s not kid ourselves. How often do you think to yourself on your way to a meeting, “This meeting is definitely going to help us arrive at an awesome solution”? Probably not very often.
In fact, most people I know sigh in resignation on their way to meetings. This is because meetings seem to have devolved into a consensus-building and CYA tactics charade, with several participants who aren’t invested in the quality of the solution.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
There is no generic template for problem-solving. Take design problems, for instance. Your best bet is to articulate the problem to an experienced designer and let him/her solve it on his/her own terms.
I know loads of folks who come up with the best solution iteratively over time. And given the often very technical nature of design problems, they’re best best solved “on paper”. This is why Basecamp messages are often more effective than in-person conversations.
Point is: meetings are not silver-bullets for solving any ol’ problem.
Your Time Starts Now
The meeting template incorrectly presupposes a fixed schedule for problem-solving. I’m constantly in meetings where two problems with completely different complexity levels are scheduled for an hour each. Depending on the crowd, some of these end with a signed-off, sub-standard solution. In others, we punt on an important problem because the group can’t agree on how to fix it. And then there are those that end with a follow-up meeting,because we “didn’t have enough time”.
Get up. Run. Hit brick wall. Repeat.
On That Note
Meetings are useful when they emerge from a natural need; sometimes people really do need to be in a room together to solve a problem. But these types of meetings have become as rare as a hen’s tooth.
In the meantime,we have succumbed to a recurring exercise in futility, accepting meaningless meetings as a necessary evil of our professional existence. I’d love for us to go back to our roots: schedule conversations to solve problems, rather than perpetuate them.
And now, if you’d excuse me, I have a meeting to attend. Sigh.