Why it's time to lower the meeting tax
Bruce Daisley, November 14, 2019
Yes, but the issue in Geoff's organisation isn't too many meetings (there are, but this is the consequence, not the real problem), it's: 1) that presentation based meetings are used as the main ...
Read More Jon Ingham, The Social Organization
November 17, 2019 08:59
Meetings are a tax on our best people’s energy – and it’s time for a massive tax cut
Picture the scene. At a well-known blue-chip firm the great and the good have gathered for the biannual meeting of big cheeses. The agenda is each division’s product development initiatives and the progress made since the last get-together.
Because all eight divisions are going to present the agenda is long and taxing, with thousands of PowerPoint slides to get through.
The first leader stands up and gives a slightly undercooked update on his team’s innovation project. Interesting idea, badly presented. But it isn’t Geoff’s sugar-free delivery that’s an issue, it’s the content. Geoff has barely taken his seat when he observes slightly puzzled looks around the table. A creeping realisation is rippling from person to person.
The chair calls on one of the other leaders to explain the awkward unease that’s settled on the room. “We’re actually working on a pretty similar idea,” she pipes up. “Erm, and so are we,” chimes another. The room breaks into chaotic chatter.
When the session adjourns for a break the chair takes the three offending divisions aside to try and make sense of things. Each leader offers the same explanation: they all outlined their propositions at the Spring meeting and each received the green light to proceed. But not one of them can remember a single detail from each other’s proposals. Hence the duplication.
This is a true story a listener of my podcast Eat Sleep Work Repeat shared with me. Sadly it’s all too relatable. But what does it tell us about modern work?
I often wonder what would happen today to a child who underwent a Freaky Friday-style teleportation into the body of one of their parents. ‘You seem to spend all day in meetings pretending to pay attention,’ they’d probably say.
According to Officio we Brits spend 16 hours a week in meetings. But many of my podcast listeners tell me that their own meeting quota is significantly higher. The travesty is that if we’re barely paying attention beyond our own contribution then we’re burning through our best cognitive hours feigning fascination.
So why is the burden of meetings the abiding experience of work for so many of us these days? Largely it seems to be down to the laudable goal of trying to keep colleagues ‘in the loop’.
Since our first excursion to the playground as children, the fear of missing out on some insight has felt so brutally excluding that we’ve always valued being kept in the loop with the latest news. And so it is with work. If we see neighbours gathering their possessions and moving towards the conference room a visceral FOMOOM – Fear of Missing Out On Meetings – kicks in. We might hate the meetings we attend but our curiosity about those we’re not invited to is unencumbered by reality.
But no-one should have more than a day’s worth (eight hours) of meetings a week. And getting to that goal should, rightly, involve some difficult decisions. Meetings are a tax on our best people’s energy – and it’s time for a massive tax cut.
When meetings are the exception, rather than the norm, our energy and attitude towards them transforms. When we apply scarcity to a decision we become more honest in our prioritisation.
Our experience of work is often determined far more by the everyday realities of meetings and emails than by even the best-resourced wellness programmes. So if you’re looking to fix your culture you could do worse than start with your calendar.
One charity told me recently that it knew it had a problem with its cultural transformation programme when no-one turned up for the three-hour kick-off meeting.
None us want to be Geoff; we want our best ideas to be heard. And we’re only going to get there if we lower the meeting tax.
Bruce Daisley is EMEA vice president for Twitter, author of The Joy of Work, and ranks 14th on our HR Most Influential Thinkers 2019 list