Meetings are so often a waste of time


“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.”
– James T. Kirk, star trek
It feels like we always need to have them… So many of them.
What’s the alternative? If you don’t have a meeting then you can’t get buy in, right?
To me, building consensus is one of the most abused reasons to have a meeting. Meetings for building consensus, are usually a waste of everyone’s time.
Another is meetings on topics that most invitees don’t care about, but you feel the need to include everyone. I’ve set up these meetings. To those I invited, I’m sorry.
If your day is made up of meetings, it means your company is run by fear, and you are not productive.
“Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.”
– Peter F. Drucker
I believe, when you have a culture based on fear, the best way to fit in and not get blamed for a decision is to have a meeting. If you want to survive in this kind of culture and get along, then you have to have meetings.

If you must have a meeting, consider how many people are in the meeting? Whats getting decided?
This past year I’ve tried very hard to avoid them. I’ve really tried to not set up meetings. Internally in Skellig I take part in very few. I found that when I had lots of meetings setup I hated working at my company because I wasn’t productive. A meeting mid afternoon meant I didn’t do anything of consequence for a half hour before or after.
Meetings break up the day in a very destructive way, so they need to be worth it.
Could you just decide on something and sent an email to document your thinking for anyone that might care?
We need to discuss, but we owe it to everyone we work with to bring them to meetings as the exception, not the rule.
Meetings in general are boring and irresponsible with attendees time.
What I’ve found useful is…
1. When you do set one up makes sure you invite the least amount of people… Ideal is you and one other.
And
2. Someone has to be made responsible for each item discussed.

Gender equality in the workplace

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It’s remarkable in 2019 that something as fundamental as gender equality at work is still a thing.  We need to work harder to be more inclusive.  It’s good business to have diverse opinions and perspectives woven into the DNA of a company and the teams within.  Yet, few of us really know how to practially do anything about this. The shift, like anything, begins with awareness of the issue.  While few remain in the modern workplace that would argue we don’t need to consciously be more inclusive, its useful to take stock of progress so far.  Consider the following depressing quote;

“The World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap – measured in health, education, economic opportunity and political empowerment – won’t close until 2186. That’s 167 years from now. In the same time span, humankind went from the steam engine to Cassini’s trip to Saturn, and from carrier pigeons to the Internet. I’d like to think that we could achieve universal gender equality much faster than that.” – Richard Brandson

Diversity sounds to some like a nice to have. 

The vibe in our workplaces is often ‘Once we get this project done we can focus on nice shit like diversity and inclusion, but until then…’

In a technology driven creative field such as engineering, I firmly believe it’s a competitive BUSINESS advantage to have a diverse team of men and women. 

Better yet, men and women from diverse backgrounds. 

Better again, men and women from diverse backgrounds and a diverse age group.

Business and especially engineering is so boring when we make decisions because “that’s how we have always done it around here”.  It’s also so much less effective. Leaders typically feel more comfortable surrounding themselves with people who think like them… That usually means people from the same background and gender. This is a basic human survival mechanism. People from the same background will think like you, talk like you, protect you as their own.  From a leader’s perspective, it makes sense to have people to validate your opinion. It’s also easier in the short term to get everyone rowing in the same direction.

This might even be a good move for the individual leader in terms of their career longevity at the top.

However, it’s not typically going to be a good decision for the company or team as a whole in the long term.

What are we all supposed to do about it?

All we can do as individuals is try to reach out to colleagues and potential colleagues who are not like us.  Next time you are waiting for that meeting to start, choose someone different to make small talk with.  Make people feel more welcome. 

(If you take away one thing from this post please make it this) Consciously consider who’s ideas you are listening to, and who’s you aren’t.

The biggest challenges need multiple perspectives.

I would argue that diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective.

I would argue that diverse teams encourage greater scrutiny of each other’s actions.

I would argue that members of diverse teams are more aware of their own biases and their own entrenched ways of thinking.

I would argue that you will see better performance overall from teams that have a diverse member group.

Diversity is good for the engineering design process.  Diversity is good business.  Proceed accordingly!

How to understand what kind of group culture you work in

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What is the culture like where you work?
How do you know how to articulate the kind of culture you work in?
In the book ,”Tribal Leadership,” by Dave Logan, Halee Fischer-Wright, and John King, they broke it out into 5 categories. I read this book over 10 years ago, and it has had a profound impact on my approach.
All people who gather in groups can be defined as tribes. The group of people you work with everyday has a culture that should fit into one of these 5 stages. It has been a great asset to me to be able to identify and have awareness of the type of group I’m in when I go to a client. Most importantly, its helped me try to be conscious about the kind of culture I help encourage at Skellig.
Stage 1
The group motto here is “life sucks”. This is usually the kind of culture you find in gangs and prison. Hopefully you aren’t working in a group that belongs to this stage!
Stage 2
The group motto here is “My life sucks”. This is usually a place where people are just trying to get by. Nobody cares about the work or has any passion for what they do. People blame coworkers and management for their woes. Although the DMV (Where Patty and Selma work in the Simpsons) I go to is great, a lot of people site this type of environment as stage 2.
Stage 3
This group motto is “I’m great.. and you’re not”. Most businesses and teams are here. People here feel good about themselves and their individual contribution and they complain about the people around them not being as smart as they are. People feel deserving of special individual financial recognition.
Stage 4
This group motto is “we are great”. In these groups people work together toward a common goal, they share common values and work against a common competitor. Instead of individual recognition, its all about group recognition.
Stage 5
This group motto is “life is great”. In these groups there is no focus on competitors, only a just cause. These groups are focused on impact. One example given in the book of a Stage 5 Culture was Genentech in the early days (70’s and 80’s). Nowadays, most pharma/biotech companies have lined their halls with pictures of people whose lives they’ve positively impacted. Genentech was the first. Genentech employees would list cancer as their competitor not another pharma company.
The take away is not many groups or companies make it to Stage 4. This is something you can impact if you have the power to influence or build a team. Choose people who share values, preferably your values and energize them around a common cause.
Being aware of the culture of your group is very important for your own career development.