Meeting Madness! The 4 Biggest Time Wasting Meetings You’ll Find

Andy Porter Andy Porter, Communication, Culture

I’m going to throw three numbers out at you:  30, 32, 34.  Any guesses on what they represent?  (Get your mind out of the gutter… they’re NOT a woman’s measurements).  Give up?  They’re the number of hours I’ve spent in meetings over the last 3 weeks.  I personally think this is a lot but I bet some of you are looking at those numbers longingly and wishing you only had that many hours of meetings in any given week.  But let’s say I average 50 hours per week that means I typically spend more than 60% of my working life sitting in some kind of meeting!  What’s worse though, is that I would only consider about 10% of those hours as actually being productive.  I would venture a guess that many of you out there feel the same way.  So what do we do?  Well, we could make an investment in helping people to improve how they run their meetings but what fun is that?  Plus it takes a lot of time.  Instead, I thought I’d break down the top four meeting types so at least you know what you’re getting yourself into when you sit down in some crappy conference room.

  1. The Preaching Session.  Similar to a trip to church on Sunday, we all gather round the table to listen to the Preacher man (otherwise known as Jim from Marketing) share with us his divine knowledge on the topic du jour.  Just like any good preacher, his stories are filled with analogies and vague but scary statements all somehow supporting his position.  Somehow though, Jim claims to have your best interests at heart. Follow his ideas and you’ll be “saved.” A sure-fire sign that you’ve found yourself in a preaching session is lots of head nodding, words of agreement (maybe even an amen or hallelujah), and some actual nodding off.  And if you have any experience at all with preachers, you don’t dare try and jump into the conversation. If you try, the volume of the preaching rises until you’ve been drowned out. Chance of accomplishing anything useful – zero.
  2. The Bullying Session.  This meeting is typically called for two reasons. The meeting organizer has something he’d like to get down but is encountering resistance so they call this meeting to hammer home their point. Or there’s a message to be sent to a particular person. You know you’re in this meeting if the leader begins with a monologue about why their position is right or why the resistance is wrong.  They may also ask for feedback and input but as soon as it comes, they shoot it down in a way that discourages anyone else in the room from taking a stand.  People in the room do a quick calculation – what costs more, going along with something I disagree with getting skewered in front of my peers?  This session also serves as an opportunity for the insecure leader to assert their power in the organization and make themselves feel better. But like most bullies, all it takes is one person who is willing to stand up and call the bully out and they usually fold, sometimes in a very embarrassing way!
  3. The Game of Charades.  In a take on the popular guessing game, you spend an hour trying to guess the purpose of the meeting, often without success!  During this meeting, you’ll see all the tricks you’ve come to associate with Charades such as vigorous hand waving and facial contortions, incoherent drawings on the white board, and people generally making themselves look like assess.  However, there’s one major difference between the game and the meeting.  At some point in the game time expires and you’re let in on the secret word or phrase. In the meeting version of the game you usually never find out!
  4. The Reality Show.  You know right away when you’re in one these meetings. There’s drama. There’s anger. There’s some ridiculous, cringe worthy argument going on that you don’t quite understand and makes you feel a little uncomfortable and embarrassed. But like any good reality show, you take some guilty pleasure in showing up for this meeting. You know it’s a waste of time but you keep showing up for the shear entertainment value of the whole debacle.  The unfortunate outcome of this type of meeting is the after the meeting gossip session.  You know what I’m talking about. Two or three people huddled up after the official meeting’s over talking in low voices that get even lower whenever someone else gets close. Eventually though, this meeting just stops one day. Cancelled with no explanation.

There you have it. Hit me in the comments with your vote for the worst offender…

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.