The really nice thing about working for a massive company is the massive amount of meetings you get to attend during any given week. I can recall weeks where I had meetings back to back without any time to even go to lunch. It really makes you feel important when you look at your work calendar and see it completely full up – with quite a few double bookings to boot.
After attending thousands of meetings over eight-plus years, I’ve calculated that roughly ninety-seven percent of them are absolutely useless. The reasons for this are varied, but in a nutshell the problem stems from a complete lack of decision making on material business items. The vast majority of meetings I’ve attended have resulted in either a) meaningless babble over a big issue with no progress toward a solution; or b) decisions made on multiple items that are completely immaterial to the business.
The two most important things you need to now about useless meetings are 1) recognizing that you’ve been invited to a useless meeting and 2) how to avoid that meeting.
Today we’ll focus on the recognition of useless meetings. There are several key indicators that will alert you of a useless meeting:
- The meeting’s purpose is to talk about another meeting. This is a very interesting phenomena that exists only in large corporations. There are two distinct sub-genres of the meeting to talk about another meeting:
1) The meeting to talk about a meeting that just occurred. Otherwise known as the “what the hell just happened” meeting. At this meeting, attendees attempt to interpret the ramblings of their respective executives. There is much discussion over what the executives said in the previous meeting vs. what they actually meant. You might ask why the meeting attendees don’t just take five minutes and ask a few clarifying questions of said executives. Good point. You are very smart.
2) The meeting to talk about a future meeting. Otherwise known as the ”cover my ass” meeting. At this meeting, the main goal of attendees is to ensure that the presentation which will be delivered to the executive team on Monday doesn’t throw them under the bus. This leads to a lot of verbiage changes in the presentation. For instance, one might insist on using the word “challenge” instead of “failure” or inserting the word “catharsis” in place of “bumblefuck.”
- The words “Task Force” appear in the meeting subject line. A task force is something executives like to create to solve company problems. The task force will be made up of a bunch of people from different functional groups who have zero expertise in the area that the problem exists. Task forces are usually very large groups. Normally the only ones left out of a task force are those who have any slice of knowledge about how the problem came about, what fixes have been attempted thus far, etc.
- There are more than thirty people on the attendee list. I’ve seen invitations to conference calls to discuss a very specific issue with upwards of one-hundred invitees. Needless to say, it’s hard to get much done when the roll call takes forty-five minutes.
- The words “All Hands Meeting” appear in the meeting subject line.
- The meeting invitation is sent out four minutes before the meeting start time. Avoid this meeting at all costs because chances are some executive just had a bright idea.
- The meeting invitation is void of any indication of what the meeting is about. No subject. No agenda. Nothing. This could be an indication that you are being set up. Avoid this meeting at all costs.
- The words “Brainstorming Session” appear in the meeting subject line. I actually would encourage you to attend these meetings. There really is no greater joy for me than witnessing that relaxing flow of random thoughts sailing ever so gently across a glistening ocean of logic yet never quite reaching a port.
- The meeting is scheduled for Friday afternoon at four o’clock. There is no way in hell that this is going to be a productive meeting.
- Your boss has forwarded the meeting invitation to you. He’s avoiding it. So should you.
Next time we’ll focus on how to avoid such meetings. For now, I’ll leave you with a quick tip. If ever you get a phone call from an out of breath administrative assistant and they say “Hector, there’s an emergency meeting in conference room B in ten minutes. Can you attend?” Your automatic answer should be “oh, I’m sorry I can’t. I just found out that my cat has contracted the bubonic plague. Gotta go!”