Feb 122011

Forget fire and brimstone. Convince me that Hell looks like this and I'll be at church every week. Photo courtesy of the International Monetary Fund via Flickr.

As much as I may not like to admit it, I work in Corporate America. My company is a not-for-profit credit union, but regardless of that there are certain aspects of the organization that are no different than any other small to mid-sized corporation. We have a “culture,” we have a dress code, we have rules about what exits you can use to leave the building and what kind of decorations you can have in your cubicle. We make five-year plans and talk about improving efficiency. We have department rivalries, rumor mills, and the occasional scandal. Like I said, in a lot of ways we’re pretty much your average every day organization. The big difference, of course, is that we’re not bending our members over for billions of dollars in profits that are being paid out to shareholders or overpaid executives.

So we have that going for us anyway.

We also have meetings. Lots and lots of meetings.

I hate meetings.

A lot.

I do not, however, hate alot of meetings. The presence of an alot at a meeting would make it infinitely more interesting.

See, here’s the thing. I am of the personal opinion that the grand majority of meetings are called because the people who call them seem to think it’s the only way they can prove that they are actually doing their job. They are Dog and Pony shows. If you want to sit with me an genuinely collaborate on a project? I’m 100% on board. I LOVE that. Hell, I actually have one meeting that I have to attend on a regular basis that I look forward to attending. Why? Because the person who runs it (our Chief Information Officer) usually ends the meeting by asking for our input on some of the latest trends related to the business. We have, on a few occasions, gone an hour or more over the scheduled end time of the meeting because the exchange was engaging and productive. That’s awesome! That gets the mental juices flowing and really engages everyone who is sitting around the table.

That, unfortunately, is not the norm when it comes to meetings.

Most of the meetings I seem to get dragged in to fall into one of two categories. Either it’s someone reading a presentation almost verbatim (a PowerPoint one or, even worse, a printed document that I’m holding in my hand) or it’s a group of people who have already made up their mind about something and simply want to sit in a room and try and force that opinion on someone else who has already made up their mind. The amount of valuable information I get from these type of meetings could usually be summed up in about five minutes and generally could be conveyed in a much more useful manner via e-mail.

You know what I hate even more? Having a meeting forced on me with absolutely no awareness of why it was even called in the first place. Frankly, I think it’s rude. It shows a tremendous amount of disrespect for my time and immediately puts me on the defensive. I’m sorry, but if you call me into a meeting and the only thing I have to go on as to what the meeting is going to be about is the subject I’m instantly going to assume the worst. Since you seem to think you have a right to take up some of my time I would appreciate you taking five minutes to, I don’t know, actually write a few sentences in the body of the meeting request explaining why exactly it is I’m expected to be prepared to talk about.

Meetings are not productive. They are counter-productive. They take time out of people’s day when those people could actually be working. Most employees in an organization don’t get paid to sit in meetings, and those who ostensibly do are generally paid a heck of a lot of money so you really shouldn’t be wasting their time. If you want me to do something or need my input send me an e-mail. If we go back and forth a few times via e-mail and haven’t come to a resolution THEN you can call a meeting. At that point we have proven that whatever the issue is it is not something that can be easily resolved and a meeting is justified.

Please note – All of the above gets tossed out the window if you supply me with good coffee and/or delicious baked goods at your meeting. I can be bought. I am also significantly less resistant to conference calls or webinars where I can find ways to distract myself while you’re droning on about something that has absolutely nothing to do with me. If I can play Portal while you’re droning on about synergy we’re all good.

I realize this post may make me sound a bit cantankerous, but the fact is that I just don’t have it in me to be a meeting person. I fall asleep. If you aren’t engaging my brain I’ll either find some way to engage it or I shut down completely. It’s just the way I work, and I really don’t see it changing any time soon. Fortunately, however, most of the people I work with have come to understand this about me and they actually respect my feelings in the matter. I have had many occasions where they will get what they need from me first and then let me leave so they can have the rest of their meeting. It’s great. They get what they need and I don’t embarrass myself by snoring in a room full of my peers. Every once in a while, though…even after eight years….I have to sit in a meeting that I know is going to be tantamount to spending an hour with a rusty spiked object wedged into a very uncomfortable portion of my anatomy.

No, you know what? Screw that. I think, given the choice between the two I’d actually prefer the rusty spiked object. Studies have shown that after a while you becoming used to physical pain and it doesn’t hurt so much. Meetings? Not so much.

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