The following is a real phone conversation I had at work today.
Snarky Senior Associate: “Hey, why aren’t you in the conference room?
Me: “Umm, because I’m at my desk?”
SSA: “You’re late for the meeting.”
Me: “What meeting?”
SSA: “The meeting Dave emailed us about.”
Me: “I thought it was at 3:00!”
SSA: “It is at 3:00, but now we have one at 11:00 too.”
Me: “What is this meeting about?”
SSA: “The meeting at 3:00.”
Me: “You mean we’re having a meeting about a meeting?”
SSA: “Well, we have to plan for the 3:00 o’clock meeting so that’s why we’re meeting at 11:00. And bring your lunch – he reserved the conference room for two hours.”
From his dismissive tone, I could tell he was about to hang up the phone.
Me: “But wait!”
Me: “When are we going to plan for the 11:00 o’clock meeting?”
SSA: “Get down here, smart ass!”
So off I go to kill more time and brain cells with yet another meeting. My firm operates under the assumption that if we’re not meeting about something, we’re not working.
In the room, I find that Dave has created an agenda. It reads:
“How are we ever going to get through all of this in two hours?” I exclaimed under my breath.
Dave just glared at me, and proceeded to spend the next two hours blowing air about how we’re going to blow air in the 3:00 meeting. Between the meeting and the meeting to plan for the meeting, plus the unofficial meeting in Maria’s cubicle to ingest handfuls of fun-sized chocolate bars while we bitched about – what else, our meetings – we accomplished about as much as if I had hit the snooze button, rolled over in my bed and played Candy Crush all day.
I bitch, therefore I am …well aware that friends who work in other types of office settings also spend 95% of their working day listening to bosses drone on about strategic plans, data collection and productivity. Although, many of my friends complain that their meetings involve side bars discussions about worthwhile things like recipes, new online blogs or how to get red wine stains out of your linen pants. But working in an office with mostly men assures that nothing juicy or fun is ever discussed at our meetings.
Later that evening, long after all the senior associates left, I sat down at my computer to do a little research to find out why so many organizations are so obsessed with the almighty meeting. What I found was shocking – a poll of Fortune 500 companies showed that if it weren’t for meetings, most bosses would spend their days on the racquetball court or perusing Pinterest in search of creative new ways of terrorizing subordinates. In other words, most meetings are held because bosses need to justify their hefty salaries.
Here are the other top reasons I found that explain why employers like meetings so much:
Employers are inherently suspicious of their employees. If you’re standing by the photocopier, you’re copying intimate body parts. If you’re standing by the water cooler, you’re bleeding the water jug dry and making them spend more on the water guy. If you’re working behind closed doors, you’re either in a bitch session, doing the water guy, or ordering shoes on Zappos. In 9 out of 10 times, their assumptions are correct. Ah, but in meetings they can see what you’re doing. As long as your eyes are open and you laugh at appropriate moments, they think you’re engaged in the meeting and, therefore, “working”. What they don’t realize is that the notes you’re taking are really the items you need to pick up at CVS on your way home, or things you can’t forget to pack for your weekend trip. And the appropriate laughter is a biological reflex that occurs when people’s brain cells rapidly evaporate after long term exposure to useless information.
He, he, he…
Employers like to remind you of “Who’s Boss” (not the 90’s sitcom) In order to give meaning to organizational charts, many employers like to put on social displays of their leadership, and what better way to do so than in a meeting of captive subordinates. When I researched this particular phenomenon, it reminded me a lot of gorillas. I should know – not only did I do a paper on them in fifth grade, but I spent a considerable amount of my singlehood dating them. According to the San Diego Zoo website, gorillas travel in troops, led by the troop leader. The job of the troop leader is to protect the troop, assign duties and write you up for violating the office dress code. When something threatens the troop leader, such as someone lunging for his or her job or a noticeable decrease in productivity the day after Bachelor in Paradise airs, the troop leader:
“beats his chest with cupped hands to make a loud noise, screams, bares his teeth, and then charges forward. Sometimes he breaks off branches and shakes them at the intruder. “
Doesn’t this sound like every meeting you’ve ever been to?
Meetings are productive tools for creating more (golf) time. There are two types of people in every office setting: the delegators and the delegatees. Chances are that if it’s not your signature on the bottom of the check, you are probably a delegatee. To be sure, check your to-do list when you enter the meeting and when you leave. If it is twice as long when you leave than when you entered the meeting, you’re one of the poor schmucks who should avoid meetings at all costs. If, however, you find yourself tossing out your to-do list on your way out the door and heading directly for a golf course, congratulations. You are now the troop leader.
Walk softly, and carry a large branch.
Your boss just came back from a leadership symposium and can’t wait to impress you with their new vocabulary. There are definite ways to tell if your boss is away at a conference, besides an increase in laughter, You Tube screenings and boxes of Zappos packages on your doorstep when you get home every day before 5:00. Just listen to the way he or she speaks at the next meeting. If it sounds something like a football play or an infomercial for get rich quick schemes, know that this particular meeting was called just to show you what an overnight “visionary” he or she has become.
“Okay, gang – going forward, we’re going to step it up and start thinking outside of the box in order to raise revenue and increase profitability. We need to drill down in our tool box so that we can move the needle and create game-changing momentum. I want to see you snatching the low-hanging fruit and achieving the performance measures on our strategic plan. Creating a paradigm shift to put us at the top of the market is the objective, here – anything that doesn’t promote growth will be placed in the parking lot. Jones, I want you to reach out to fiscal and have them crunch some numbers. Smith, give me a white sheet on the new project. We need all hands on deck to dig deep and get the ball rolling so we can close the deal, or it’s back to the drawing board with Plan B.”
Extra points are given to bosses who plot it out with “X”s and “O”s on an oversized Post-It chart.
They paid an arm and two legs for that big honking conference table – it has to be used for something. Every November, as I leave our monthly staff meeting, I look longingly at the conference table and wish there was a way I could” borrow” it for our Thanksgiving meal. How I would love it if we could all eat in the same dining room together instead of strategically placing the kids’ table in another room, like the front lawn. I want a big surface on which to place the salad bowls, bread plates, dinner dishes, wine glasses, water tumblers, highballs, utensils, my father’s dentures, my daughter’s iPod, my husband’s game-updating cell phone app, my bottle of Advil, the turkey and its 17 accompanying side dishes. Not to mention our cat Snowball who will inevitably try to jump up and try to eat the centerpiece. Then again, I realize that if I do find a way to smuggle the conference table out of the office, I’ll probably be stuck with hosting the Thanksgiving meal every year, having the kids at the table and inviting every singleton in the office who catches me mid-theft and bribes me with an offer to plead the fifth about what happened to the table in exchange for an invitation.
Hmmm, I guess I’m going to have to think outside the box and come up with a game-changing plan for this year’s holiday meal.
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