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.
2. Someone has to be made responsible for each item discussed.

How to understand what kind of group culture you work in


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.

Henry Ford on Experts

Henry Ford, who founded the Ford Motor Company, had a lot of cool stuff to say. This quote, like a few others, has stuck with me.It is profound and has changed how I think when someone describes themselves as an expert.

“None of our men are ‘experts.’ We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job. A man who knows a job sees so much more to be done than he has done, that he is always pressing forward and never gives up an instant of thought to how good and how efficient he is. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible. The moment one gets into the ‘expert’ state of mind a great number of things become impossible.”

I’ve found this to be often true. I’ve come across some very smart people who learn something well and then get stuck in their ways. They fail to evolve or leave themselves closed to new and potentially better ways of doing things.

There’s a difference between an actual expert, who’s no talk, and a hack, who’s all talk.

It’s the person who shows up to a project, solution in hand! They are the hammer and every project is a nail. This expert thinking usually results in missed opportunities to make something better. it also results in missed opportunities to improve their own craft.

We as engineers are particularly susceptible to this. Beware of hubris.

Have confidence in your ability to add value but don’t forget to keep learning.