The Haught guide to meetings
People often say to me ‘Jonathan, you’re the preeminent career agony aunt in the world today – when do I know that I’m going to too many meetings at work?’
I tell them a little story.
A few years ago I worked at a company whose senior management team decided it wasn’t ‘good at process’.
It was an abrupt, somewhat bewildering realisation, like a cat suddenly deciding it needs to be halfway up a tree. The staff all nodded and hmmed in the affirmative, but really they just wanted to placate those who had formed this opinion, horrified by their dilated pupils and shockingly enlarged tails.
In fact, nobody really knew what being ‘bad at process’ was or what the proposed remedy – ‘to facilitate more robust stakeholder interaction measures’ – would entail. Turned out it was to have more meetings.
What ensued was a kind of Stalinist purge, but instead of people vanishing, it was working time that was systematically liquidated or sent to the gulag. Hour by hour, the amount of time we had to do our jobs was slowly deleted, replaced by meetings. Meetings about process. Meetings about strategy. Meetings about strategic process. And, inevitably, meetings about meetings.
This brings me back to the question raised at the start of this article. You know things have gone too far when meetings go postmodern. And if you’ve got to the double meta stage (meetings about meetings about meetings) it’s time to take a stand. How? Start by organising a meeting and go from there.
An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
You can read the column – Benign to Five – in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the BusinessDay section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)