Bad Meetings Killed the Dinosaurs

07/11/16

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Meetings. We all have them. But you’re probably underestimating just how much time is spent in meetings and how many of those meetings are unproductive. According to Atlassian, workers attend a whopping 62 meetings a month. Those same employees claim at least 31 hours a month are spent in “unproductive” meetings. The result: nearly half of workers deem meetings to be the number one time waster in the office. 

Ouch.

While they are meant to be engines of productivity, meetings often fall far short, turning instead into fruitless, uninspiring time sucks that drain our creativity and motivation. That’s probably why 90% of workers admit to daydreaming during meetings and 73% simply do other work. Recall projects or ideas you were initially excited about, but that died a slow death by 1,000 PowerPoint slides after the initial kick-off. 

For all the time we spend in meetings in today’s knowledge economy, no one spends much time thinking about the origin of meetings and their fundamental purpose.

It got me thinking about our hairy, smelly, inarticulate homo sapien ancestors (aka, cavemen), for whom meetings were likely used to plan hunts, divide survival responsibilities, and make important tribe decisions (e.g., when to migrate, how to deal with someone who had broken the caveman cultural rules or didn’t pull their weight). My guess is that the Head Honcho Caveman didn’t spend much time designing objectives and desired outcomes for those meetings. The purpose was always clear – what we need to do to survive – and attendees were always fully engaged because their participation meant literal life or death. Laying out who was responsible for hunting and the roles within the hunt, who would gather, who would take care of children, and who would tend the fire were all vitally important matters.

I amused myself for quite awhile imagining overlaying today’s standard meeting language and practices into the caveman scenario (“Grog, can you give us an update on our firewood KPIs – and how’s that new wheel project coming along?”).

But then I imagined a world where every meeting I attended had a clear objective, my purpose within the meeting was apparent and the outcomes, decisions and next steps were fully understood. It would revolutionize my work and home life. I would no longer receive meeting invitations motivated by political correctness (we have to invite Sabrina, even though we don’t know what her role will be, so her feelings and ego won’t be hurt) and I would never leave a meeting wondering what the heck was expected of me (perhaps my teenage son would also finally understand that cleaning the bathroom was his one action item!).

My life would be different all around – more efficient, more constructive, more relaxed - I’d probably use all that saved time for truly getting caught up on my email!

At Milepost, we endeavor to make sure our meetings matter every time. We hold an internal expectation that objectives, desired outcomes and action items are spelled out and we employ innovative facilitation techniques, both to try them out (nothing like turning your coworker into a guinea pig), and to ensure we aren’t falling into patterns of behavior and thinking that result in tired ideas and stale processes. In that framework, meetings become interesting, exciting and challenging, leading to results that are real and actionable.

We want to help you do this at your next annual meeting, sales meeting or division meeting. We want to bring innovation, engagement and excitement (dare we say fun?) so that meeting attendees leave with the desired results and a plan for next steps that energizes and revitalizes the work you do. 

Our meetings no longer result in life or death if they miss the mark or don’t produce action, but they often result in a kind of slow, painful professional death – gradually killing your love for what you do. Take a lesson from our prehistoric predecessors and consider how you can boil your meetings down to their essentials in order to make them matter – and let us know if we can help. 

Sabrina Cowden
Sabrina Cowden

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