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Meeting the Challenge of Meetings

I want to have a meeting to discuss the sad state of meetings.

Every time some business know-it-all decides to write-it-all, the subject of meetings comes up. Apparently, no one likes meetings. No one is satisfied with the ideas that are generated in meetings. No one likes the decisions made in meetings. Let’s face it. Meetings are the red-headed stepchild of business today. And I’m sure if we could get a bunch of red-headed stepchildren together for a meeting, they’d dump on meetings, too.

Mike Richardson, the author of “Wheel$pin: The Agile Executive’s Manifesto: Accelerate Your Growth, Leverage Your Value, Beat Your Competition,” is the latest meeting-basher to make my meeting on meetings agenda. While I might want to suggest to Richardson that a title so long it requires two colons is probably not the most agile way to attract readers, I do commend him for having some specific tips for “developing agile meetings with traction.”

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Of course, you and I won’t agree with many of author Richardson’s tips, but that’s because we go into meetings with a different set of goals. He wants to put an end to meetings “where executives and workers are bogged down with burdensome systems, procedures and time-wasting meetings stuck in minutiae.” We love being bogged. We want more meetings that go on endlessly and accomplish nothing. Because when we’re in a meeting, we don’t have to do any work. And if the meeting accomplishes nothing, we won’t have to change any of our time-tested techniques for avoiding work. Best of all, we get all these benefits for just sitting around a conference table, listening to a bunch of bozos bloviate about their dumb ideas. And if we’re lucky, we get donuts!

“Set the mood” is one of Richardson’s top tips. “Set the tone for the energy level by playing a video or music,” he says. “You can tell a story, read a quotation, or be unpredictable and create a surprise factor.” Personally, I have no problem with these suggestions. I’m sure everyone in your company loves a good story. Considering the mental age of your executives, “Goodnight Moon” could work very well. You might also get a quotation from the page where the narrator says, “Good-night spreadsheet. Good-night raises.” As for the “surprise factor,” your manager might say something halfway intelligent. That will shock everyone.

“Spark creativity,” is another suggestion, but that’s not easy to do. Richardson’s idea is for the leader to “frame the purpose of the meeting as a question,” since “questions get the human brain thinking more quickly.” He might be right here, and I have the perfect question — “Who wants to order pizza?”

Richardson believes it’s essential to “time-box everything.” This means forcing the participants to “figure out how to get things done in the time allotted.” While people like us hate to see a meeting that could easily last a whole day arbitrarily cut down to a 45-minute time-box, I get especially uncomfortable when the author recommends that the manager running the meeting “get people used to the fact that you will guillotine anything which runs over.”

Any reference to the chopping off of heads is not going to play well in an economy where every day brings us more chopping off of headcount. Besides, what can you accomplish in 45 minutes? Even “The Bachelor” requires 60 minutes every week for 10 weeks, and fixing the sales shortfall in Fresno is a lot harder than finding true love.

Speaking of accomplishments, the agile executive ensures productivity by “capturing everything electronically live.” At first, I thought Richardson was talking about videotaping the meeting, which would be an excellent idea, since any video showing the depth of ignorance in your management team would surely go viral when broadcast to the world on YouTube. As it happens, the author is simply suggesting that you capture “action items” in a spreadsheet that can be “hosted on your server for easy access by all.” That way, at least everyone in your company can access your supervisor’s idiotic antics du jour.

By following the author’s recommendations, your company will avoid “futile wheel$pin” and have meetings that go “shooting forward when they press on the gas.” I’m not saying these ideas are stupid — or should I say, $tupid — but you might want to discuss them with your colleagues. It’s easy to do. Just have a good, long meeting, and order some pizzas. I’ll have mine with minutiae.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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