The practice of meetings

I recall a clip of Allen Iversen, former all star guard of the Philadelphia 76ers saying, “We talkin’ about practice.”

This was at a press conference where Iversen seemed irritated (at least to me) that he was having to spend time answering questions about what he was or wasn’t doing during practice. They weren’t talking about games or opponents but what was rumored to have happened at practice. Namely what had occurred between Iversen and his coach. He had plenty of reasons to be weary of how the press portrayed him, since they had portrayed him as a ruffian from the time he was 18 years old.

I remember Allen Iversen’s irritation years later because it reminds me of feelings that so many people have towards a constant irritation in their own lives. It is not basketball practice that they are obligated to attend, forced to go through, and then go back to over and over again. It is not anything sports-related, but it is the job-related meetings that people are required to attend, to go through, and go back to over and over again, even when they don’t go well.

Like a bad practice, a bad meeting feels terrible. The difference is that most of us, unlike professional sports athletes, don’t get skewered by the corporate media afterwards. There may be gossip about what does or doesn’t happen in a meeting, but rarely is it in front of video cameras and reporters.

In the last month, I have heard instances of two friends who were feeling a lot like Allen Iversen. They were stewing after long, onerous, and horrendous days. Their work days did not consist of hours of practice, but hours of meetings. Meetings that people loath. All-day meetings that feel useless or, even worse, are counter-productive. Meetings that take people away from what they feel a need or obligation to do, and have to sit through something else. To be in a physical space, or on a phone call that obstructs and distracts.

I find this practice/meeting metaphor more poignant having just read about how people steal your most valuable asset, your time. Time which unlike money cannot be compensated, reimbursed or retroactive. When I heard Iversen’s quote, it sounded like he was doubly frustrated. Frustrated at a practice that seemed like a waste, and then having to spend time listening to people ask him questions about an incident that they were not a part of, and that he did not want to revisit.

A question that we ask in our house is: How does this serve you?

How do meetings serve you? More importantly, which meetings don’t serve you? And, what is causing us to continue to subject ourselves to terrible meetings. It has been 13 years since a book with the title, We Have to Stop Meeting Like This written by Tony Jeary and George Low, came out. I haven’t read it, but whatever meeting status quo the authors hoped to address and disrupt seems to carry on.

Rather than get wiser in how we do meetings, we have gotten stuck. It seems to me that all meetings consist of some fundamental elements:

<ul><li>two or more people</li>
<li>one or multiple topics to address</li>
<li>how the people in the meeting communicate with one another</li></ul>

In my math mind, this feels like an equation:

X = P + T + C

Where X is a meeting, and the three variables are People, Topics, and Communication. Depending on the set-up, and the power dynamics, a different meeting could mathematically be written as:

X = (4P x 3T)/C

Where four people are present and they have three topics on the agenda.  Like in any good equation, any of these variables (P, T or C) can greatly affect the outcome of meeting X. But, oftentimes, it seems to me that communication, C, is the variable that most affects both the people in a meeting and how they talk to/address/shout at/disagree/pummel/reprimand/present to/inform the other people/person in a meeting.

As social beings, how we communicate with one another tremendously impacts how well or how poorly we get along. As is the case in any team sports, chemistry has as much to do with performance as talent. As a child, and as a younger brother, who often played sports and pick up games, I learned how a team with more synergy and less talent could often win over a team with more talent and less synergy.

Our working environments and campaigns need meetings with better synergy and more attention given to the chemistry and dynamics between People. The old and entrenched habits around meetings need to be broken. We’ve got to figure out how to drop these bad habits, as they are lethal to our health.