I’ve become keenly aware of the power of meetings, for both good and evil. The last few weeks, business has demanded that I participate in more gatherings than normal. My attitude towards meetings is captured perfectly by Dave Barry:
If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’
Luckily, I’ve been able to act the role of observer, and I’ve noticed a few common characters pop up in every meeting:
- The Talker: Without fail, at least one attendee loves the sound of his own voice. Once given the floor, this individual makes a point of dragging out comments, repeating as necessary to ensure attention, regardless of the actual value. Occasionally this person hits on a valuable point, but the audience response usually falls along the lines of eye-rolling and random snoring.
- The Critic: Regardless of who says what, there’s the attendee who can wait to point out how wrong everyone is. However, this person rarely, if ever, has a better idea or solution to the problem or issue. This person takes more pleasure in attacking than in problem-solving.
- The Silent Majority: The bulk of the audience says very little. Due to The Talker and The Critic, the opportunity and the desire to participate is less.
- The Sleeper: No matter how exciting the meeting gets, someone is always asleep, or at least zoned out, within 10 minutes of the start. My favorite? The reaction of The Sleeper if nudged or startled away has a tendency to pretend he was never asleep.
- The Note-taker: The clacking of keys or the scratching of a pen gives away this person’s position in the room. Like the obsessive note-taker in high school or college, this person believes the world will come to end if they miss a word. The sad part? They usually miss the heart of what’s happening. And how often do you actually revisit notes from a meeting?
These are just a few of the personalities I’ve seen in action. Meetings by their very nature are not set up to be honest exchanges of ideas. Instead, involved parties spend a significant amount of time and energy guarding territory and attempting to add to their power. Combine that with the disinclination of people to take responsibility, and meetings are usually a mess.
So I pose the question—is there a better way than meetings? Does another option exist that we’ve overlooked or haven’t explored?