The Soul-Sucking Meeting

by talkbackty on Nov 15, 2011

This is the another post in my Zen and the Art of Teaching series. Check out them all here. 

This can apply to a variety of businesses. Maybe you'll notice how similar what I'm about to describe fits the office where you work. Let me assure you, schools have mastered the art of the soul-sucking meeting.

You know the one. It drags on and on. You're not even sure why you came in the first place. What's going on? Is this important? Whoever is in front speaking sure seems to think so. In fact, they believe this is the most important meeting on the face of the earth. As if the Lord Almighty commanded this meeting be brought forth from oblivion to bring the idle masses to salvation.

It's about toner cartridges.

Or teaching strategies. Or a particular student. Or tardies, fire drills, rallies, football boosters, school elections, math club, being too disengaged with students, being too engaged with students, not teaching enough, teaching too much, and on and on and on. Eons pass and ice ages come and go in the time it takes to get through some meetings.

The worst part is that we could be working. We could be finding our way into the Element. Creating lessons that will actively involve our students and actually teach them something. Perhaps, if we are lucky, inspire them to create something of their own.

Schools (and maybe your business) need to discover what meetings are for. They are not for hanging out, catching up, checking in, seeing how things are going or progress reports. There is no need to have a meeting every day, probably unnecessary to have one every week.

What a meeting should be is a place where individuals can gather to collaborate and share ideas. You should go to a meeting, get something wonderful out of it that will help you create something of your own. Regurgitation of a process is simple. Every animal species can walk in a line. Humans are so advanced we invented email. If all a manager wants done is for his drones to follow an order- send an email.

Here are my rules for meetings, when I am in charge.

1. Cancel it. Honestly, is this meeting necessary? Will every single individual get something out of it that will improve their lives and their students lives? If the answer is no, cancel the meeting. If the answer is yes, move on.

2. Never longer than a half an hour. Ever hear someone say, "Kids attention spans are so short nowadays." It's not nowadays and it's not kids. The absolutely maximum a mind can stay focused on a single task is 45-50 minutes. But that takes a lot of interesting things, active involvement and communication. Most likely, a mind can handle closer to 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes is the perfect length of a meeting. Assemble the troops, hand out papers, expect them to read the papers another time (don't go over information twice), say something inspiring and let them do the job you hired them for.

3. Inspire. Make it so meetings aren't necessary. The best manager should make themselves obsolete. The best teachers should fade into the background. People want to work and think and create all on their own. Inspire them to do that.

Here are my rules for meetings when I am in attendance.

1. Don't go. It's a waste of your time. Inform your superiors beforehand. Make it clear to them you don't do meetings. They are a drain on your energy, your time and they prevent you from reaching the Element.

2. Seriously. Read number one.

3. If you must go, do your best to be open to inspiration. Chances are it won't happen. Whoever is in charge is probably wasting everyone's time with idle chatter. However, you can at least, for a moment, attempt to be open. If you can't make it through three hours of being open to inspiration then try small segments. But seriously, read number one.

Send emails, use IMs, set up a Skype account. You know what all of those things have in common? You can turn them off whenever you want. You have a choice about when you are going to work individually or collaboratively. Unlike when meetings are forced upon you, choice is present. Companies/schools that block websites to improve worker productivity are stupid. Let your employees go on Facebook and Twitter. Let them search the web for Gnostic Christianity and sites on Anarchy. They may be inspired to create something wonderful for your company. Or teach a child something that will change his/her life.

Block meetings though. I'm all for blocking meetings.

*With inspiration from Leo Babauta.