Life Lesson No 3: That’s Not a Meeting, That’s a Mess

Some people love big meetings.   I’m not a fan, especially of the set-piece, 3 hour workshop with 20 participants, unless they’re very well run and controlled.

In my experience, a meeting is rarely about discussing what’s on the agenda (unless I’m running it of course).  Expecting logical thought processes and the ability to relate the words coming out of people’s mouths  back to an agenda item, well that’s too much to expect isn’t it?  Yet another case of high expectation being dashed against the jagged rocks of reality.

My view is that meetings are an opportunity for the organisation’s sociopaths to display their wares.  Some observable meeting behaviours stand out:

Show Ponies:  look how much I know!  Even though it’s not got anything to do with this meeting!  I can talk for hours about this (or about anything – just ask me).  Aren’t I just fab!  Smirk smirk smirk; it’s all about me!

Terminally Depressed Detractors:  generally older males with deep knowledge of the business.  Do not like to have thoughts or knowledge challenged, especially by a woman.  Highly resistant to change. Will bang on about favourite grievance given any chance at all. Thinks they’re a mover/shaker (In that cardigan? Oh please.)

Ferals:  I’m too busy for this. And too important.  I must type noisily on my laptop all the way through the meeting, responding to major crises that require my considered input.  I can multi-task you know (this is the male version – the female will have already taken over the meeting).  Jumps in to demand irrelevant information and additional analysis on any and every subject.

Nowadays I have a few simple rules:

(i)   if there’s no agenda, objectives or expected outcomes:   I’m not going

(ii)  use of blockers eg after 1 minute of drivel unrelated to the point being discussed:  “thank you Torquil, noted, let’s move on” or “Serena, could you just explain how your point is related to the meeting objective?  Just so everyone’s quite clear”

(iii)  opportunity cost:  if A < B (where A = $ value of my hourly rate listening to you and B = $ value of doing some proper work on which my bonus is based) then it’s hasta banana.

Neil has an interesting way of dealing with meetings which are descending into chaos;  he bangs on the table and bellows “JUST SHUT UP” at the rabble of assorted bozo project managers and under-performing middle management.  Stunned silence.  Yes, he has actually done this – he’s my meetings hero.

I once worked for a company that during a takeover regularly flew lots of the other company’s people from Birmingham and London for day-long workshops  in Edinburgh.  It cost a fortune.  They’d arrive in a semi-sullen state (they were being taken over after all), not having done the pre-work and spend the day in the conference room farting and eating our biscuits.  It took a lot of meeting time and effort to overcome their tactics of wilful obfuscation and time-wasting with the usual ever-present background drone/whine of ‘this will never work’.  Ultimately successful but exhausting for all involved.

And one arrogant git of a project manager I worked for treated meetings like pitched battles, derailing any attempts to allow us to work collaboratively towards an outcome.  He walked out of one meeting puffed up and pleased with himself and said smugly “ah, X was a worthy adversary”.  Meanwhile his project’s heading down the pan, his project team are stressed beyond belief and a month later the project was cancelled and he was out of a job.

I wonder if he ever managed to work out why.



  1. Hhaha love it. Welcome back to your blog. Things I don’t miss. Or maybe I do as I only get to meet with myself ;O

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