A Manifesto Against Bullshit Meetings.
I’m calling an end to useless, meandering, bullshit meetings. Actually, I don’t think I can take any more of them. They drain us, frustrate us, waste our time and leave us in best cases no worse – but no better – for the wear. I don’t have time for that. My team doesn’t have time for that. And my clients sure as hell don’t have time or desire to spend their money on that. It should be that simple, then, just calling an end to these time sucks like declaring a ceasefire. But changing any habit, behavior or accepted practice takes a bit more effort than that.
It isn’t that my days and my office/agency are packed with bad meetings. It’s that one bad meeting has a lingering effect beyond your time in that conference room. It’s like the durian fruit of professional group interaction, spreading its stink beyond the physical space and time of exposure.
These types of meetings have been the focus of so many blogs, articles and interviews, but they persist. We know how to avoid them (create an agenda, only schedule meetings when a meeting is needed, come prepared, leave with actionable steps). We know how to combat them when they sprout up (stick to an agenda, show up on time, set aside topics for individual follow-up, invite only those who need to be there).
Are the authors/experts wrong? Are the remedies not working? Are we just dumb?
The issue isn’t that we don’t know how to have productive, meaningful meetings. It’s that we aren’t in the habit of it. And changing habits are hard. Psychologists have told us that we cannot rely on willpower and motivation to break habits and should create environments that force us to change behavior. It’s called social engineering. I know, it sounds scary but it’s simply making changes that make us change the unwanted habit. Take losing weight. One social engineering move would be to sell your car and only bicycle for transportation (I know, an extreme example, especially for those of us in LA.) It works, because you are forced to change your behavior and break your bad habit. But we aren’t applying this approach to breaking the bad meeting habit.
We know the steps to take. We just need to make the changes that force us to take these steps. Maybe it’s a consequence for showing up late to a meeting. Maybe it’s holding meetings in spaces without seating to keep them brief (I mean, who wants to stand when there’s a nice chair beckoning). Maybe it’s a policy of only attending meetings with clear agendas. It’ll be different for each organization and most likely for groups within those organizations. The important thing is that we identify that we have a problem, and we make changes that help us kick the bad meeting habit.
Relevant reads on breaking the habit:
- The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)
- Think Differently to Break Bad Habits (Psychology Today)
- Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)
- Drive (Daniel H. Pink)
- Switching Off Bad Habits (Psychology Today)