The meeting about the meeting
I like humans, I really do. And I love talking to humans. I even like doing so in meetings, if we are talking shop. I really don’t mind most meetings, honest to god.
I have regular one-to-ones with my boss and my team, with my peers, and my clients, and they are invaluable. Mid-pandemic I also have meetings that aren’t meetings at all but a chance to have a coffee with a colleague and just chat.
I have team meetings, and project meetings, and steering meetings, and sales meetings, and performance review meetings and the rest. And I hold them, chair them, attend them, instigate them, you name it.
We need them so we have them. Collaboration, alignment, conversation. It’s how we do business in our industry.
You know what else I do to meetings, though?
I cancel them.
Work with me here.
What got you here won’t get you there
If you have ever worked for me, you will know that one of my favourite things to do is regularly assess whether we can cancel standing meetings. I usually do it with ridiculous emoji voting on slack – the ridiculous emoji use is intentional. It needs to be ok to say, kill this f**ker, it’s not working and it’s easier to do it using a zombie emoji than it is to tell your boss that a meeting they chair is a waste of time. But it may be and we can’t not talk about it.
Do we need the meeting at all? Do we need more or less time, different frequency, different focus? We have rarely totally killed meetings (although we have also done that) but we have never failed to make some changes and adjustments. Meetings need to have a purpose and value and to ensure they do, you need to keep asking the question. Is this still working for us?
Time is the one thing we will never get back. Is this a good use of a resource we will never have more of, as individuals, as a team, as a company?
If not, then change it.
As radically as you need to, in order to make it work, and cancelling is always an option.
“No” is a valid answer
The belief that the only reason to not attend a meeting is because you are in a different meeting is up there with Flat Earthism in terms of its logical merit, and yet it’s the default position of most corporates and most gatekeepers.
Why am I going to this meeting? Because you were free at that time and they asked.
Oh, ok then. Only, that’s not an answer.
Is this meeting needed? Does it have an agenda? A purpose? An ask?
If you don’t know, I am not coming.
Am I needed?
If you are not sure, I am not coming.
Is it good use of my time?
Could it be an email? Should it be an email?
You know what to do.
And that’s not to postpone it. It’s to cancel it.
And do the work. So you know what the ask is. And you know what you need from me, so you know if you need me in the first place.
Until then, free or not, my answer to your meeting is no. Not because of how busy I am. But because it’s the right thing to do. For both of us.
I get to preserve my sanity and you get to go and do the work that is yours to do. And then we can have all the meetings your heart desires, and you can give me homework, you can have an ask. You can have ten. I will do the work. Trust me on that.
An eye for an eye and a plan for a plan
I hate the phrase “we need a plan for a plan”. It kicks the can down the road, it denotes lack of urgency, it sets every alarm bell in my head pealing like mad. We don’t need a plan for a plan, we need the work done and, to ensure we do that well with nothing missed, we need a plan and you need to go do it.
Not the plan for a plan. Not even the plan.
And you can have all the meetings and planning sessions and update sessions and plans for a plan you want to get you there, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need to do the work. It just adds to the pile of things between you and the work being done. And it creates noise.
If that’s your hobby, who am I to argue, but I shall pass.
Because frankly, it feels like you are punishing me for something, when I ask you what the purpose of a meeting is, what the update of an action is, where the work that needs reviewing is and you ask for a meeting to discuss the meeting I am trying to get out of.
You and I both know what is happening there.
You haven’t done the work and you are penalising me for not playing the meeting game. For asking for an agenda, for pushing back on the pretence of activity, for challenging your cavalier attitude towards both my time and our deliverables as a team.
I don’t know how else to say this to you: go do the work.
And if the meeting is part of doing the work, approving the work, improving the work and moving the work along, then have the meeting. I will be the first there. I will stay the course. I will come to the follow-up session at 9pm because that was the only time that worked for everyone and we need to get this done.
I will be there.
If the meeting is part of venting, team building, learning, understanding or connecting, then have the meeting. I will be there. I will bring snacks.
If the meeting is a chat because you want to just be in the same room for a bit, have the meeting. I am coming to that too.
If the meeting is just an excuse for a rant and a giggle then definitely have the meeting. It builds trust and camaraderie and trench buddies are the best buddies at work.
Have the meeting. Spend the time together.
Spend it. But don’t waste it.
If you are having the meeting because you can’t think of what else to do, ask for help. Make the meeting about the fact that you are stuck. That is not an easy meeting, but it’s a good meeting. An important meeting. I will come to that meeting.
But the meeting about the meeting? The meeting instead of the update? The meeting about the plan for a plan?
That meeting is not happening, matey. Go do the work. Then we talk.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!