Bureaucrats, as a group, are big fans of meetings. When we’re not sitting in them, we’re preparing for them, discussing how they went, or pondering what other topics are important enough to warrant having their own meetings. If you plan your day just so, you can step from meeting to meeting and never once have to risk accomplishing anything that might accidentally be considered a productive use of time. Pretty much the only guaranteed think to come out of a meeting is that there will be more work on your desk once it’s over than there was before it started.
If you step back and honestly asses your own experience, when was the last time you walked out of a meeting feeling good about how much you’d accomplished? Alternatively, how often do you walk out of a meeting feeling like you had just spent two hours of your life that you were never going to get back? Personally I can’t remember the last meeting I was in where the salient points couldn’t have been dropped into an email and circulated to those with a need to keep track of such things. More often, the whole thing could have been avoided if two people passing in the hallway could have had an “oh, by the way” moment and restricted the exchange only to the people who actually care about a specific topic or issue rather than subjecting the entire office to an afternoon of torment.
If you’re a proponent of meetings, do you know when you’ve just had a good one? I do. It’s when the senior person in the room stands up at the end and asks if anyone has a clue why we just sat through that and then walks off shaking his head.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.