The Meeting is Dead: Long Live the Meeting!

A Ted talk here by Jason Fried (the CEO and co-founder of project management firm Basecamp) really got me thinking about this issue.

He makes a very convincing case that the best place to work isn’t at work due to what he calls the M&M factor –Meetings and Managers.

Technology has made matters worse

And this isn’t a new problem – I remember delivering a talk on the amount of time wasted in meetings 30 years ago! My sense is it’s only gotten worse because technology enables us to be in meetings no matter where we are and what time it is. Jason’s solution is crude but simple – don’t go to meetings and don’t schedule them. It’s such an easy trap to fall into – much like CC’ng half the world on emails you send!

The real issue: Over-controlling Managers

I think the real issue is control and more specifically, managers having a hardwired “need to control” personality. To illustrate, a few years ago I had the privilege of coaching a high performing executive at the Yale CEO College who’s 360 feedback was less than ideal. Her dual operational/strategy role meant she was tied up in meetings 30 plus hours.

Her solution was twofold. One, focus on the strategic role and offload the operational one to reduce her time in meetings. Tick from her boss. Her second one was more ‘revolutionary’ – work from home one day a week so she could get her work done and then have space to reflect and think about her strategic role and engage fully with her colleagues. Her boss said no. Why? To paraphrase “If I worked at home, I’d keep getting distracted and not get my work done so I can’t see how you could do that!” The outcome? She left within 3 months.

Innovative Workplace Design Only Part of the Solution

Want further proof? Many organisations have or are introducing innovative workplace design to reduce costs and maximise collaboration. But the biggest stumbling block to their success isn’t the changes to the physical space but the change to the mindset required for managers who can no longer “see” their employees and whether they’re at their desk working or not. Of course, being at one’s desk and working are not the same thing but it’s the fallacy of control that keeps the managers feeling like their teams are still working.

Stay at Home Mondays

One last example to close. I recently read a Fortune article about how one Fortune 50 CEO worked at home every Monday WITHOUT their phone or computer in order to clear head space to THINK about the business. If a CEO can do it, surely other managers and leaders can learn to do it too. Good luck!

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