Meetings as a Status-Enhancer

Meetings as a status-enhancer

This probably isn't the first time this month that you're reading about how there are too many meetings in modern-day office life.

We know how shamefully wasteful they can be. Some people turn up late, coffee in hand. Others allow themselves to be distracted by their phones, doodling and general day-dreaming. At worst, even when everyone in attendance is contributing, meetings have a nasty tendency to degenerate into groupthink — disastrous for the business.

The term 'groupthink' doesn't sound all that bad to many people. Maybe comparable to 'brainstorming' or 'teamwork'. But it's a malign concept. You know those meetings when everybody is silently nodding, usually after the boss has given his or her half-baked opinion, but you're sitting there thinking (all the while nodding) what a terrible, terrible idea this is? That's groupthink.

Not only has the organisation just wasted 10 man-hours. It has also allowed an entire team to push forward a disastrous decision that, in reality, hardly anyone backs. After all the nodding, time to go back to your desks and shake your head.

Why do we persist with these useless meetings, week after agonising week?

Meetings are generally unproductive, sometimes destructive, and usually demotivating for all involved. And most companies know it.

So why do we persist with these useless meetings, week after agonising week? The reason, as with so much else in business: status.

The sad reality is that not all managers can be great leaders. Or at least, they are unwilling to put in the necessary effort. And the majority of these less-than-stellar managers realise that they don't belong to the top tier of leadership brilliance.

However their ego prevents them from working on their weaknesses and, even more so, from encouraging the strengths of their team members — lest one of their subordinates replace them or, even worse, get promoted above them.

Maintaining a certain managerial status is an essential survival skill in today's workplace. Now that competent subordinates can, thanks to electronic tools, communicate with colleagues, clients, other managers, suppliers and external contacts without opening their mouths—thus bypassing their manager completely—, the poor left-behind boss still has one effective tool in order to reign in the team and demonstrate so-called 'leadership': you call a meeting.

Nothing of substance to talk about? No problem.

So, ready to start your meeting? The most efficient way to say to your team, "Your work is unimportant. Drop it right this second and listen to me." is to clap your hands loudly and announce that it's time for a team meeting. If, after 20 seconds, one or two team members are still at their desks (handling an urgent customer order for example), you simply call them out individually and use guilt as a weapon: "Come on Tim, we're all waiting for you. You can deal with that later."

Nothing of substance to talk about? No problem. Just mention the fact you've had some phone calls recently with some really important senior people. "So I was talking with Jim Smith, the VP for Marketing, the other day and we agree that..."  No need to go into too much detail about any of the content of those calls. The main thing is to make it clear how many important calls you are involved in. Also, you can feel free to ask each team member to say a few words regarding what they're working on right now, even if it's routine work that essentially never changes.

And there we have it: another 10 man-hours of wasted time, with their significantly negative contribution to the company's bottom line.

Make sure to thank the team at the end of the meeting, even though you should actually be apologising—both to the team and to the company's shareholders. But at least your ego is now at peace and your perceived status just got a little boost.

It's time to start calling managers out on this bullshit practice. Most meetings are, in my opinion and experience, totally unnecessary. So long as businesses maintain incompetent bosses with status anxiety on their payroll, there will continue to be god-awful team meetings, along with their colossal toll on employee morale and business performance.

Don't just nod along. Cancel those meetings.

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