Meetings.

Posted by jlubans on April 17, 2016

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Caption: You wont believe what happens next when Kim Jong Un puts a bowl of M&Ms on the table!!!

Of late, Ive been reading about meetings and groups; why they do or dont do well. Take the humorously snide Meet Is Murder by Virginia Heffernan.
I read Heffernan side by side with the NYTimes take on perfect teams at Google.
And, Ive revisited my blog on how busy bees get it done.
Finally, the insights of the corporate sabotage manual resurfaced.
Here are two teams in meetings, according to the Google story:
Team A:
Composed of stars. Each in turn offers, at length, his or her expert opinion. Distractions are promptly reigned in. Starts and ends on time. No chitchat. At the end, people get up and leave.
Team B:
A mix of stars and regular employees. Discussion wanders. All listen and all interact with speakers. If the topic changes, the group follows. If Team A is efficient and tightly wound, Team B is inefficiently loosey-goosey. At meetings end people stay and gossip.
Whats your preference? There is evidence that suggests Team B is more productive than Team A. How can that be? How can a motley crew outdo the best and the brightest?
Why meet? There are the obvious reasons; to get together and exchange ideas and to take action. Theres an urgency about these initial meetings.
When that urgency dies out and it almost always does - then meetings become formal and routine, sappers of time, dreaded by the productive and esteemed by the unproductive. Free food and drink, including color-coded M&Ms, do not bring back that initial sense of urgency, that quintessential reason to get something done. Nor does a bag of donuts or a slice of pizza establish trust between leader and followers.
Maybe some people do not need to meet; they just need to be left alone to do their job?
Meetings are work, hard work. The more we ignore the HOW of our meeting, the worse it gets.
I recall my meetings, one on one and in groups. At the start of my run with an organization the meetings went well. Then they split in two directions. It was like Team A and Team B above. Team B meetings continued in productive ways. Team A meetings became more and more formal and less and less got done.
When I took part in Team A type meetings, I had to accept some of the blame, at least half. I could have changed the tone of those meetings, but did not know enough on how to do that.
Team B meetings were a matter of personality and like-mindedness we all agreed upon and wanted change and were willing to do more than our share. And, we trusted each other.
Team A avoided more. Team B confronted more.
Yes, I could have done something about the boring meetings, I could have asked myself: Why is this meeting so dull? Why is this person telling me things he/she thinks I want to hear? Why is this team not including me in idea generation? Why is this team not asking me for my ideas?
At one of my jobs, the little joke about Kim Jong Uns bowl of M&Ms would apply. No, execution by anti-aircraft gun was not the likely outcome of a suppressed yawn, but there was some death of soul going on, much nodding and smile-making.
What would happen if Kim Jong Un told the assembly to put down their silly notebooks and pencils? In my case, its unlikely our alleged A team's going at ease! would transition us into a real B team.
At the end of her essay, Virginia Heffernan asks:
Whats so bad about meetings, after all? At bottom, they are nothing but time with your fellows. Which suggests that hating meetings might be akin to hating traffic, families or parties just another way to express our deep ambivalence about that hard fact of existence: other people.

Copyright John Lubans 2016

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