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Bruce Daisley Headshot

Will Meetings Be The Death Of You?

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Do you think you could plot a company's success inversely against the amount of time taken up in internal meetings? It's hard to be objective, my personal aversion to meetings is an almost visceral rage, but I fear they may even be destroying our productivity.

My retired dad thinks that modern work is something like The Apprentice. Some irascible twerp hauls his whole workforce infront of him to read them the riot act - before sending one of them off with their P45 and a badly mangled metaphor in their ear. I actually think that the realities of endless hours of internal powerpoint would be far more crushing. Watching motivated new starters skip into jobs at exciting companies and then observing the slow realisation that the job they applied for is what they do between the endless morass of conference calls and 'status check-ins.'

Having recently adapted to a life with very few internal meetings, the sense of space and creativity is liberating. While there is no doubt a need in every job for some orchestrated getting together the productivity of work-floor chat seems to be infinitely higher. It reminds me of the work of Theodore Zeldin, the Einstein-coiffeured philosopher who turned his Radio 4 shows into a book. He spoke lyrically of the power of free-form conversation as a dynamic creative force. He said open-ended discourse "doesn't just shuffle the deck of cards - it creates new cards." Sadly it is this discourse that the classic heavily agenda-ed meeting stomps all over. We need more chat, fewer charts.

The powerplay of meetings is depressing, the mangle of overt and covert agendas. People taking turns to speak, then zoning out when it isn't their turn. I wholeheartedly ascribe to the maxim of my friend @daranasr, "if in 10 minutes you haven't spotted the tosser in the meeting, it's you".

While the politics of meetings is highly charged, their main damage is what they prevent. The crushing impotence of sitting hostage around a table with eight other people, while your inbox buckles under the weight of more work, is life-sapping. I worked at Google when Larry Page took over as CEO. Such is the sense of powerlessness when anyone takes over a CEO job they often reach to change the rules on meetings. What are all these people doing all day - get out here and do things! Larry reacted the same way - he decreed that all meetings would be shorter. Hour meetings would be 50 minutes, half hour would be 25 minutes. An edict gloriously implemented into Google Calendar by a lickspittle engineer as Speedy Meetings - yes they are there today if you want them, people. It's hard not to sympathise and applaud his gentle rage against these pernicious time drains.

We should turn for our answers to the thinking of Zeldin. Keep time in the day for chat. No-fly-zones for meetings between 12 and one, maybe? Conversation that transitions from last night's TV into ideas for what to do on a forthcoming bit of business is productive. It creates new ideas in a way that sitting through Paul's bullet-points just doesn't.

I'm with Zeldin, don't think that looking busy is making you more productive - make 2013 a year of chat, not charts.

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