Why are meetings boring? Observations from behind the scenes.

Written by Andy

Image credits: https://dribbble.com/bib

In this article you’ll learn:
  1. We often kill people’s attention with bad PowerPoint presentations
  2. Disguised in false professionalism we don’t let authenticity and emotions into meetings
  3. Hierarchies block creativity and sound human interactions
  4. Ignorance of time makes us less vigilant to its wasting during meetings

10:00 am. As every second monday, team managers meet for the meeting. It starts a few minutes late as Julia has just been seen rushing in the corridor so now everyone’s waiting for her. Even before the meeting has started, there’s already a dull power point presentation beamed on the wall showing a bunch of paragraphs written with 10 pixel tall times new roman and a handful of graphs using default pallette.
It’s hard to read but most people take seats away from the powerpoint presentation. Team manager opens the meeting with a few uninspiring announcements, then starts to go over beamed graphs. In turn every participant present their data.
Two people run into a fierce 15 minute discussion about apparent lack of help on the side of one team’s team members. Meanwhile others quietly sink into their smartphone and laptop screens apparently being flooded by business requests.
The round moves on slowly but it’s clear after 40 minutes, that other managers will have to really squeeze into remaining time to present their own results.
At 58 minutes there’s no more time for constructive cross-team discussion so the meeting closes and everyone leaves. Behind the meeting room door, people leave one more thing – most of energy they had before they came here.

I have worked more than 10 years in the enterprise world. And from that perspective I have to say the meeting culture haven’t changed much. If only it has deteriorated leaving millions of people doing their 9-5 wondering why the hell do we need meetings?

Already there is a strong movement advocating no-meeting culture where people focus on individual work and rarely have any face time. Unsurprisingly, the root cause is money spent each time a bunch of individuals sit down to talk leaving their operational work behind. Why pay this infamous 283 bn in salaries due to ineffective meetings when we could stop meeting at all?

I believe meetings – business or friendly should be an occasion to cherish as fellow human beings come together to share opinions, discuss and build upon each others’ ideas. While inspiring meetings can enable teams to feel more aligned, increasing their motivation and productivity, its the boring, ineffective, meetings that become the biggest blocker to getting things done together. And I guess no one argues any more in the era of knowledge workers, that work can only be done by teams and not merely individual contributors anymore. Even the no-meeting culture proponents have to yield to the fact, that in order to deliver value across the entire value stream, multiple teams have to work hand in hand for the final product or service to be available to customers. That means good communication.

So why are meetings boring ?

Regular death by Power Point

The first often neglected culprit is our corporate love for bad, generic power point presentations. I remember watching a lovely deck called Death by PowerPoint that showed what bad presentations do to people and they do cause a lot of cognitive harm. To be quick – tons of text and dull charts drive focus away from the matter, the speaker and meaningful human interaction.

Solution

Use as little text as possible and do use images. People think in images. But not stock photos. Go for authenticity. An image that would inspire you can as well do the same for others. And inspired people are creative people.

Authenticity and Emotions have no place at work

We’ve grown to believe it’s wrong to show emotions at work because apparently emotions are the enemy of professionalism. Nevermind the word professional doesn’t really mean anything specific anymore. Recently I’ve seen this article in Financial Times, that warns us not to trust people with clean haircut. As far as I remember looking smart was key tenent of professionalism.  What is professionalism anyway?
But we’re still not allowed to show emotions in meetings. We’re told to let go of our authenticity and wear a forced mask of professionalism. The apparent problem there is again lack of authentic, constructive human interactions. Patrick Lencioni in his Death by Meeting encouraged honest conflict as one of key to productive meetings. That’s because real value is based on people clashing their opinions against each other given they’re able to work on a result that involves harmoniously joining multiple perspectives. Needless to say pretending you’re someone you’re not kills your true potential and creativity.

Solution

Let’s stop trying to be professional at all times and start building great products and services around ourselves. Stop caring about the outfit and actively invite different perspectives. Ask. Do rounds in meetings. Let emotions come into play as emotions, when honestly worked through, bring people closer together.

Strong hierarchies leave people unsafe to speak (and deliver HQ work)

We’re not living in feudal societies anymore. Yet the top-down layout of most companies is still more than noticeable. And hierarchies reflect on meeting dynamics. Fear of one manager in the meeting can disable the entire team to speak up their minds and hold valuable interactions. Nowadays to build extraordinary products and services we need to work by our internal motivations and not external fears and cravings.
Here’s a good example. It’s becoming apparent recently, that Ancient Egyptians could not have build someting technically as advanced as the Great Pyramid of Giza using only the hands of slaves. A man whose only motivation to work is the fear of his life is simply incapable of delivering good quality work. Here’s Jimmy my favorite Youtuber talking about this.

Solution

Let go of strict hierarchies. Let people feel safe and equal. If you’re managing a team, be their Master Yoda and not the menacing Pharaoh. Praise in public. Scold in private.

Ignorance of time

Time is that one thing that never stops. The fourth dimension has this great potential to stress us out as we’re rushing from one meeting to another or fail to deliver ahead of deadline. Always late. Always behind time.

Meetings seem to be that one place where we should be aware of time but where we usually forget about its existence. When time doesn’t exist it’s just so easy to run into a prolonged conversation with a colleague, totally disregard the agenda or just spend hours on your mobile phone. And so usually the end of the meeting is signalled by another team trying to kick you out of the meeting room.

A lot of meetings have therefore their moderators – someone that keeps track of time and reminds people when they’re wasting it without attracting negative emotions. As an Agile Coach I’ve seen how a good moderator can totally change the dynamics of a meeting. But professional facilitators cost a fortune.

Solution

Why spend money on facilitators when you could have a beautiful device that stresslessly moderates time in the meeting instead? That’s why we’ve created Timeqube. It often takes time to learn inspiring presentations, develop individual authenticity and let go of hierarchies. A Timeqube works the moment it lands on a meeting table. And now you can get yours.

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