Survival in a World of Meetings
The subject of meetings is something I’ve given a lot of thought to in recent weeks. When my children were growing up, we used to have “family meetings.” It is only now that I understand my children’s dislike of those long ago times. “What’s the point of these meetings if we don’t get to decide anything?” my oldest daughter would wail in righteous indignation. These meetings ultimately went by the wayside when it was discovered we actually had more positive discussions over the dinner table than we did at our coma-inducing meetings. My attempts to manage my family the way my office got managed were simply dismal failures of execution. Intent only matters in a court of law, I think.
When I got the e-mail announcing the semi-annual mandatory regional meeting at the office a few weeks ago I was dismayed. I might have been okay with just having to go to a meeting, but popping the word mandatory in front of it makes my stubbornness rise to the surface, like cream on the top of freshly “squeezed” milk as it cools. Almost as bad as the mandatory part was the fact that it had a theme—camp. Puleeeeese! The thought of more than 200 professional women and men having to play camp-style games or finger paint wearing dress clothes at the end of a long work day was too hideous to contemplate. True, we would be given a meal, but I envisioned hotdogs, green from sitting too long in a steam table, a bag of potato chips and a can of soda so that at least half of us would be sporting mustard stains down the front of white shirts or summer weight suits by evening’s end. I spent the ensuing weeks plotting, planning, hoping and figuring a way out of going to this meeting. No luck. My schedule was planned months ahead.
I popped my head into the office next to mine where Maryjo, another trainer, happened to be to see if she planned on going. I was envious when she replied that she was scheduled to be in another state that day doing training.
When Maryjo moved into the office about three months ago, she came heavily laden with books—so many she actually had to order a bookshelf. I had been hoping to peruse her shelves and borrow some books when I had time. When we were talking I asked her if I could borrow one of her books. Lying on her desk was Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. The topic seemed quite appropriate. Even though I’m not a fan of self-help or business books, it was the best title I’ve seen in a long time. So I borrowed it.
Since it was billed as a “leadership fable,” I expected something fun and fictional and perfect for lunchtime reading. After retrieving my emergency can of soup from my desk drawer, I settled down to eat and read. The tale is an utter and absolute work of fiction where the right people just fall from the sky into the desk that’s empty and go forth to make a huge difference in the company, solving the problems that more experienced people could not. It reminded of the movies where every kid in the high school can dance well and all of them at the same time without any practice. It was too pat. That is not to say that the story didn’t make the point that meetings can and should be interesting, generate productive discussions, include drama and conflict, and not be conducted the way the Romans conducted meetings with lions, swords and poison.
Our mandatory meeting last week was held in the public auditorium. It had lots of drama and conflict, too, as we voted for the best decorated beach towel and had team races with beach balls. Fortunately, I was not picked to be on a team. I felt bad for the rest of the chosen adults as they played in the humid Florida summer air, wearing suits and ties or pantyhose and heels. Yup, we saw profit and loss charts just like I expected, the next sales initiative was rolled out as we were all shot full of the glory gun and exhorted to do our best while we nibbled on cold fried chicken, beans and slaw (instead of hotdogs and chips) with greasy bits of napkin stuck to chins and fingers. But the meeting wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. It was nice to see folks I don’t get to see often, so perhaps I won’t fight the next one so hard.
However, I probably won’t be borrowing books off Maryjo’s bookshelf again. The rest of them, I have a feeling, won’t be leadership fables and will be as uninteresting as re-chewing a piece of gum. I’ll just make sure that next to the emergency can of soup is a book tucked away for emergency reading, too.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at