Meetings About Meetings: The Culture of Getting Things Done (Or Not) Through Collaboration


Did you know that there are over 11 Million meetings every day in the U.S. alone and that 80% of them fail to achieve their stated objectives?

Shocking? I’m going to venture a guess that nobody is floored by this statistic.

I learned this fast fact among others things about why meetings fail and what to do about it in a training session on meeting organization and facilitation skills that I, in turn, trained my team on.

I remember being out drinking last night (preparing for my big day) and trying to explain to one of my friends that I was going to spend the morning leading a meeting about meetings. I think it made her spit up her gin and tonic and nearly spun me into an existential crisis.

But after the session was over today I realized how important it really is to teach people how to properly generate ideas and how to listen….and that there is actually a “right” way to do it.

I would say there are a lot of sociological and anthropological factors in U.S. Corporate protocol that have created a routinized system of unproductive meeting culture, such as:
– hierarchy: we tend to place value on rank and the clout that comes with it in our business organizations. Rather than fostering a culture where people “down the ladder” are allowed to question, we tend to favor cultures of deferral to senior team member’s ideas. Like in military culture, there is this air of insubordination that comes with challenging the opinions and egos of those who are in a higher echelon. This is why so many companies are so slow to change – because nobody wants to stick their neck out for fear of being a troublemaker and potentially losing their influence at their organization or, worse, losing their Job.
-Limiting access to time: we stay so “busy busy” that we tend to seek to want to take as little time as possible for meetings so that we can “get actual work done”. What happens is we end up skipping the necessary steps to actually inspiring and truly considering and building on new ideas before we accept or reject them. So, we tend to make snap decisions and / or end up not landing on the right set of next steps because we are in a hurry to move on to our next meeting or task. What this does is end up necessitating yet another unproductive meeting – and the process continues in perpetuity. It also leads to the next culture killer…..

-Devaluing listening skills:  we tend to speak to be heard and only listen to the degree that we feel a topic is personally relevant to us.  We have forgotten how to not only hear, but truly understand another person’s point of view and find ways to nurture ideas by building on them.  Because of this we end up rushing to judgement on whether or not to accept or reject new ideas before really giving them proper consideration.  It tends to halt progress in it’s tracks because we don’t feel like we have “time” to hash things out constructively.  We value making decisions and being “right” (without risking too much) more than we do “seeking first to understand and then be understood”.   We have forgotten how to listen with our whole mind and heart.

-Stigmatizing “fun” in favor of formality:  we tend to feel like work should be something very serious that we don’t necessarily enjoy but get done because it has to be done.  We forgo levity for the sake of putting our nose to the grindstone and getting things done.  We have our meetings at conference room tables and limit activities to conversation rather than idea generation. Or at least use something like agenda Management Software for School Boards and the .net cms software to get more creative.   We don’t allow for stretchy thinking because we worry that too much creativity might lead us down some dangerous unknown path…or we fear that we are not capable of creativity.  But if we actually allow ourselves to incorporate a little bit of structured playfulness and imagination into our meetings, we get a chance to discover our potential again and unlock parts of our brain that we don’t use.  Remember – we develop really rapidly as children and part of that development is related to play and enjoyment.  We retain things that we enjoy the most.  Why don’t we apply that enjoyment to our work?

The style of meeting facilitation I have been teaching is all about lateral thinking, creating an open and comfortable environment, more productive listening and actually taking the time to go through a results and accountability-orientated process.  And it’s good to see  both younger and older team members getting excited about collaborating and realizing that you CAN get stuff done in meetings if you re-adjust your priorities a little.  If we suspend our cultural rules about seniority and efficiency for just a little while and embrace a nice slow-roll where we can all enjoy the ride on the same level, we may just evolve in the process.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s