“Death by meetings”

meetings_graphic317Manuel stared blankly at his calendar.  It was a Wednesday, the middle day of the week in the middle of a typical month.  9:00am – meeting, 10:00am – meeting, 11:00am – meeting, 12:00pm –working lunch meeting, 1:00pm meeting, etc…  It was 8:37am and shortly Manuel was going to start another day that comprised of nothing but meetings.  According to his calendar, from 9:00am until 6:00pm he was in meetings without one break.  At this realization of another day lost and out of his control, Manuel should feel some level of anger or resentment but he numbed himself to that anger long ago.  As one of a handful of Directors of Information Technology at a University, Manuel had seen his role become more and more critical over the last 5 years.  Budget cuts combined with massive change in higher education made the need for increasingly better technology platforms a must.  On top of it all, it was a University.  Administration needed to be bought in – unanimously.  Faculty needed to be bought in – unanimously.  Staff and students didn’t seem to have much say, but they needed to be involved in the conversation anyway.  As a result, there were meetings.  Lots and lots of meetings.  One week Manuel estimated he spent over 42 hours in meetings This didn’t include all of his time spent preparing for the meetings and following up after meetings.  Manuel’s real work day was beginning to look more and more like one of his early IT jobs, 6:00pm to 12:00am.  If that wasn’t bad enough Manuel had a team of four managers and 30 support staff under them.  The only time he could coach and develop them was after 6:00pm.  That meant that they were staying late at work, away from their families, longer than should be necessary.  Family.  Manuel tried not to think of family this early in the week.  He needed to at least hold out until Thursday afternoon to let himself go there in his mind.  He bit his lip in an effort to distract himself.  His calendar came back into focus and Manuel suited up for another wasted day filled with meetings.

Meetings own a special place in my workplace dysfunction Hall of Fame.  They are the flagship exhibit at the end of the hallway set aside for “most common workplace dysfunctions that shouldn’t exist.”  Think of it as the workplace equivalent of the measles.  There are simple antidotes and inoculations, and yet, almost every organization is guilty of this pervasive dysfunction.  There is no damn good reason for it.  Unlike a dysfunctional boss or an unhealthy culture, meetings can be easily reworked, restructured and managed to prevent dysfunction.  This month, I’m loading you up with all of the booster shots, vitamins and antibiotics you can handle.  We’ll make sure we hit the following:

  • What’s the purpose or objective?  If you can’t articulate one, you shouldn’t call one.
  • Who should attend?  Meetings are NOT a party.  More is not merrier.
  • How long should the meeting be?  Meetings shouldn’t be marathons.
  • What are the ground rules for the meeting?  Gotta keep those emotional vampires in check.
  • What’s that post-meeting hygiene?  How are you gonna ensure that stuff actually gets done?

Simple enough, but I have yet to have attended a meeting run so well that I could check off all of those boxes.  Ridiculous.  We’re gonna change that starting today.  Just imagine living a world where meetings were all done right.  No wasted time.  No soap-boxing.  No pointless blather.  No fuzziness on why you’re there and what you need to do.  No politics.  No dysfunction.  I know, I know.  It sounds too good to be true.  But what option do we have?  Death by meetings?  No thank you.  

Here’s a teaser on what we’ll be covering this month.  Have a taste:


Trolls, princesses and other scary coworkers

zombie-groupThis post is purely an ode to many of the creative and on-point scary coworker ideas I’ve received this month. Well done readers, well done. I’m sufficiently frightened. I think this Halloween, I’m working out of my home office with all of the lights on. ‘Course it doesn’t take much to freak me out. This is a guy who used to get uncomfortable simply by hearing the theme song to the American TV show “Unsolved Mysteries.”  I didn’t even have to watch the show.  The theme song was plenty.  Pathetic.

Your Scary Coworkers

Without further adieu, this is your list of workplace monsters and scary coworkers (in no particular order):

The Office Troll – Grumpy and grotesque, this keeper of the “road” makes you pay a toll before you are permitted to pass. As one reader noted, they “wait to take your ideas after you’ve paid your toll to cross through their department.” Not only do you have to pay the toll, but you are fleeced as you pass. Nastiness. Welcome to the joys of office politics.

The Princess – I gotta be honest. This one took me by surprise. After all, what’s scary about a princess? But the more I thought about it, I realized it makes total sense. There is a fine line between princess and diva. The Diva is not pretty. They throw temper tantrums at a moment’s notice. They storm out of meetings in dramatic fashion. They are delicate, unstable and narcissistic. Woo… The only way to survive an office princess / diva is to make them the center of your workplace universe. Princess usually tend to reside in “small business” kingdoms, but I’ve seen them in non-profits, universities, retail and hospitality. Oh, and don’t be confused. Princesses can be men just as easily as they can be women.

invisible-manThe Faceless Coworker – I received this description from a reader and thought it was spot-on. So much so, I’m gonna let it stand on its own.  No need to mess it up with my commentary.  “The metaphorically Blind, Deaf, Speechless (and likely touchless and smell-less) coworker – without eyes, ears, nose, tongue or fingers. Why? — A divorce lawyer learns quickly that the opposite of love is not hate – It’s indifference. (Love and hate are close – going back and forth and erupting in emotion.) This monster ‘hates’ you by ignoring you – doesn’t see or hear or ask anything about you. [It] is simply indifferent to you and ignores you – the workplace equivalent of the high school football quarterback or prom queen who doesn’t see anything but themselves in the mirror.” I’ve seen this coworker just about everywhere. Scary.

Again, well done, folks, well done. Ya make my job easy.

Happy Halloween!

Next Month’s Dysfunction: Death by Meetings. You won’t want to miss this nasty pervasive dysfunction, unless of course you don’t ever go to meetings. If that’s you and you truly never attend any meetings whatsoever, you likely live in a cave. In which case I recommend you take a shower, shave, invest in some new clothes and try socializing once and a while. It will do you some good.


I work with Frankenstein

frankensteinI love the image of Frankenstein: a big, slow moving uncommunicative monster that lumbers along in the world. More often than not, he’s gentle and non-threatening, stopping to pet the occasional kitten. The big theme with Frankenstein is “misunderstood.” You can’t really understand him and as a result he is easy to misinterpret.  When misunderstanding does occur, Frank loses his mind. He flails about, yells unintelligibly and breaks stuff. Do you work with a Frank? My guess is that you do. Perhaps one of the most common dysfunctions at work is the overall inability to clearly articulate to others what one expects. It’s messy when a coworker fails to communicate, even messier when a customer is guilty of poor communication and downright horrific when the boss is the culprit. So what can you do?

How to Work with Frankenstein

If you work with a workplace Frankenstein (aka “Frank”), you have a few options:

  1. Be gentle – Franks are spooked easily. Firing off question after question is a great way to elevate their blood pressure. Slow and gentle is the key. Ask simple basic questions. Questions like: “what would you like to see happen?”, “What would please you most?”, etc… Pause between each question and allow time for a response.
  2. Get comfortable with silence – Franks need time to process questions. What does that mean for you? You need to get comfortable sitting in silence for long periods of time. Don’t fill the space with words or chatter. Don’t try to restate your question. Don’t do anything. Just sit. Franks will come around when they are ready.
  3. Give him stuff to react to – Franks do not do well if you ask them to clarify what they mean. Franks also don’t do well if you ask them to tell you what they want or want of you. They don’t author. They don’t articulate. They react. If you want to work with a Frank effectively, you have to be prepared to give them things to react to. Come in with options and present them. “Frank, do you like A or B better?”, “Frank, do you mean X or Y?”, “Frank, who does things the way you prefer? Drac or Wolfie?”
  4. Don’t surprise him with bad news – Franks are very wary of villagers with fire and pitchforks. If bad stuff cometh, give him as much notice as possible. Don’t wait until the problem has reached Frank’s doorstep. Then it’s too late. The the arms will start flailing and stuff gets broken.

Workplace Frankenstein’s aren’t all that bad. With a little patience and effort, they are easily managed. Just don’t expect too much from them. For better or worse, working with a Frank means you are in the driver’s seat. They won’t be able to tell you much. So, if you are looking for compliments, clarity and collaboration, you need to look somewhere else. I heard Dracula has some openings, but as I’ve covered, emotional vampires have their hang-ups too.