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How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings

Picture this: it’s Monday morning, you’re at the office, you’re settling in for the day at work and this guy you sort of recognize from down the hall walks right into your cubicle and he steals your chair. Doesn’t say a word, just rolls away with it. Doesn't give you any information about why he took your chair out of all the other chairs that are out there, doesn’t acknowledge the fact that you might need your chair to get some work done today.

You Wouldn't stand for it. You’d make a stink, you’d follow that guy back to his cubicle and you’d say “why my chair?”. Okay, so now it’s Tuesday morning and you're at the office. And a meeting invitation pops up in your calendar. And it’s from this woman who you kinda know from down the hall, and the subject line references some project you heard a little bit about but there’s no agenda. There’s no information why you were invited to the meeting, and yet you accept the meeting invitation. And you go. And when this highly unproductive session is over, you go back to your desk and you stand at your desk and say “Boy, I wish I had those two hours back.”

Like I wish I had my chair back.

Every day we allow our coworkers who are otherwise very very nice people to steal from us. And we’re talking about something far more valuable than office furniture. I’m talking about time. Your time. In fact, I believe we are in the middle of a global epidemic of a terrible new illness known as “MAS: Mindless Accept Syndrome.” The primary symptom of Mindless Accept Syndrome is just accepting a meeting invitation the minute it pops up in your calendar. It’s a involuntary reflex, ding, click, bang it’s in your calendar gotta go I’m already late for a meeting.

Meetings are important, right? And collaboration is key to the success of enterprise and a well run meeting can yield positive actionable results. But between globalization and pervasive(?) information technology the way that we work has really changed dramatically over the last few years. And we’re miserable. And we're miserable not because the other guy not because the other guy can’t run a good meeting. It’s because of MAS, our Mindless Acceptance Syndrome. Which is a self inflicted wound. Actually we have evidence to prove that MAS is a global epidemic. Let me tell you why.

A couple of years ago I put a video on YouTube, and in the video I acted out every terrible conference call you’ve ever been on. It goes on for about five minutes, and it has all the things we hate about really bad meetings. It has the moderator has no idea how to run the meting, there are the participants that have no idea why they’re there, the whole thing collapsed into this collaborative train wreck. And everybody leaves very angry. It’s kinda funny.

Lets take a quick look. (cuts to aforementioned YouTube video about bad meetings)

Sounds familiar? Sounds familiar to me too. Couple weeks after I put that online,500k people in dozens of counties, and I mean dozens of countries watched this video and three years later it’s still getting thousands of views every once. It’s close to about a million right now. In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world, companies that you’ve heard of but I won’t name, have asked for my permission to use this video in their new hire training to teach their new employees how not to run a meeting at their company. And if the numbers there, a million views and being used in all these companies isn’t enough proof that we have a global problem with meetings, there are the many thousands of comments posted online after the video went up. Thousands of people wrote things like “omg that was my day today”, “that was my day EVERY DAY”. “This is my life.” One guy wrote: “It’s funny because it’s true. Eerily, sadly, depressing true. It made me laugh until I cried. And cried. And cried some more. Brilliant.” This poor guy said “My daily life until I reach retirement of death *sigh*”

It’s real quotes that are real sad. The common theme running through all these comments online is the fundamental belief that we are powerless to do anything other than go to meetings and suffer through these poorly run meetings. Live to meet another day. But the truth is, we’re not powerless at all. In fact, the cure for MAS is right in our hands! Right at our fingertips, literally. It’s something that I call: “¡No Mas!” Which if I remember my high school Spanish means something like enough already, make it stop!

Here’s how ¡No Mas! works! It’s very simple, okay? Next time you get a meeting invitation that doesn’t have a lot of information in it at all, click the tentative button. It’s okay, you’re allowed, that’s why it’s there. It’s right next to the accept button, or maybe button, or whatever button is there for you not to accept immediately. And then get in touch with the person who asked you to the meeting. Tell them you’re very excited to support their work, ask them what the goal of the meeting is, tell them you know you’re interested in learning how you can help them achieve their goal. And if we do this often enough and we do it respectfully, people might start to be a little bit more thoughtful about how they put together meeting invitations. And you can make more thoughtful decisions about accepting it.

People might actually start sending out agendas, imagine? Or they might not have a conference call with 12 people to talk about a status when they could just do a quick email and get it done with. People just might start to change their behavior, because you changed yours.

And they just might bring your chair back too!

¡No Mas!


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