Meetings are Toxic

Meetings are one of the worst kinds of workplace interruptions. They’re held too frequently, run too long, and involve more people than necessary. You may have gathered that we really dislike meetings at Basecamp. And many of you do too! This episode of Rework features:

  • A group of philosophy professors in a meeting they Kant seem to end. You might say it had…No Exit. One attendee, at least, found enough Hume-r in it to tell us about it.
  • A meeting about a meeting.
  • A dramatic reading about conference calls from hell.
  • Basecamp programmer Dan Kim talking about his post on recurring meetings and what you—yes, you!—can do to start changing the ingrained culture of meetings at your company.
  • A brief, pedantic aside to note the difference between garters and garter belts.
  • A cringeworthy meeting with an unwanted participant—and an unexpected outcome.

We had more listener-submitted meeting stories than we could feature in the episode, so here are a couple bonus ones!

No Work Done

I had an intense 12-hour meeting over two consecutive days. We were writing, correcting and estimating stories for a three-month project. Devs were in the room with managers, scrum master and biz owners.

So at the end of the second day, we finished the last story and we were supposed to groom and task it out next day (a third meeting day, yay). But our manager talked with us the next day and told us that some biz owners were mad about some unclear criteria in the stories, so he said that the (managers and biz) will regroup and this time “correctly rewrite all stories” and that we will have another 12-hour meeting next week.

That’s the story of how I had 24 hours of meetings in two weeks and NO WORK DONE (we couldn’t start working in the project until we had the second 12-hour meeting).

Quelle Horreur

I recently worked as a product manager for an Austrian company that was owned by a big French group. We were an IT service provider for two products, and in this meeting we were supposed to discuss payment providers for our new e-commerce offer.

The office and project language was English. My boss spoke English, French and German. I spoke English and German. Our French colleagues spoke French and English (with difficulties).

The meeting was a jour fixe (recurring) video conference scheduled for one hour, done over a big screen in HD. On our side, it was my boss and me. On their side, it was three project and product managers joined by a “payment expert” and an “SEO expert.” So that was seven people. Five minutes before the meeting, our CFO informed us that he would be joining shortly just to clarify “some budget things” with the department lead. So in total, we had nine people in the meeting: six on their side and three on ours. After the introduction round in English, the CFO and the department lead started to discuss budget details in French and that lasted for 40 minutes. Nine people in the meeting, two people talking to each other, and one of the nine (me) doesn’t understand a word that was said. Once they were done, they both left the meeting, so the rest of us had 20 minutes to discuss what we wanted to discuss.

I’ve read Rework and already had formed my opinion about Jour Fixes and working in meetings. I also complained often and openly about meetings I was invited to but had nothing to say and could have just read the minutes afterward. But this one was a special kind of meeting. It was almost like it was directed by Monty Python. I no longer work there 🙂

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