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Meetings are Like Goldfish

December 15th, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

I grew up on a farm. Well, not a real “working farm,” we didn’t make our living off the land, but we had a decent sized plot and at one point we ran quite a few head of cattle. No, we didn’t milk them (what are you crazy – those things need milking twice a day…every day) they were beef cows (which is to say we had a freezer full of hamburger and steak). Along with the bovines (Texas Longhorns mostly – this one reminds me of one of our old cows, Harriet – and yes, the girl cows have horns too…) we had horses, cats, dogs and a goat. Oh yeah, and we had goldfish too.

Now, unless you’ve been around the 1,000 gallon tanks that are used to hydrate large animals, you might be really surprised to hear that we had goldfish on the farm. Like us, large animals often like to drink with their meals. Unlike us, they lack opposable thumbs and mirrors so they don’t always realize when they’ve ahh, still got some feed in their snouts. Without fail, bits of corn and hay are deposited in the water tanks which, if you’ve ever been to a dorm room inhabited by college age males, you know what happens next. Algae and other nasty stuff develops and that just doesn’t make for good drinking!

Unlike your dog’s little dish, you can’t just dump out a 1,000 gallon tank everyday – you have to live with a little crud (OK not so much us as the beasts but it isn’t fun to look at). So what’s a rancher to do? Well, you toss a few goldfish in the tank and let them have at it! Goldfish are great because they’re cheap – and you go through a few on the farm. Some just flat out die (it’s not like the water is pH balanced) others have a pretty good idea what Jonah went through. Needless to say, you just don’t get too attached to goldfish…

So one day, my mother brings home a dozen goldfish – apparently they were on sale somewhere – and we proceed to dump them into our various tanks. As expected, about half died almost instantly perhaps from the shock of moving from the fish equivalent of a studio apartment to a 50,000 square foot mansion. Or maybe they were just afraid of cows. But the other half survived. Strike that, they thrived. Not only did they make it through the winter (the tanks were heated to prevent freezing), they had babies. And they changed color – they weren’t gold, they were a brownish camouflage, in fact you could barely see them. They also grew…a lot. While they probably wouldn’t have tempted a pro bass angler, these weren’t your little sister’s fish. Needless to say, we were quite impressed with our little fish farm!

Lets see, I had a point…really. Oh yeah, meetings are like goldfish – they grow to the size of their container. I’ve attended A LOT of meetings lately (my teammates were planning to steal my computer…there was a pool to see how long it would take me to notice) and I’ve discovered that if you schedule a meeting for 1 hour – it will take 1 hour…or longer. Ever so rarely, you’ll get done with what you set out to accomplish in less time than you budgeted and people will actually break but more often than not they just stick around. I think it’s a similar mentality to many a golfer these days – I paid my green fee and I’m going to take my time darn-it. Or maybe so many people live in meetings all day that they can’t imagine being anywhere else. Of course these sickos have bladders of steel.

I’ve also discovered that meetings will quickly fill the open slots on your calendar. Like I said, the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting my mail delivered to conference rooms. Without fail, I’ll check my schedule in the morning, content that I’ll have a couple of hours to answer email only to find by the end of my first or second meeting the cracks in my day are filled. It’s kind of like Field of Dreams – if there is an opening, chances are someone will take it.

I’m not (completely) railing against meetings – sometimes they really are necessary. But the next time you schedule a meeting, ask yourself: do we really need to meet on this or will email suffice? When you do schedule a meeting, make sure you only invite those people that absolutely need to be there. I know, maybe you work at one of those places where your boss (or user) insists that he (or she) be in any meeting where any decision is made but don’t take that to mean you need to invite half your team. And if you think you’ll only need 30 minutes then only schedule the meeting for 30 minutes! Give people an hour and they’ll use it, force them to economize. Of course you may want to book the room for an hour… One last thing – if you schedule a meeting for Friday afternoon, bring treats. You owe us.

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  1. jjathman
    December 18th, 2005 at 19:25 | #1

    I dream of a day when I only go to meetings where I am a *vital* member of the meeting. Don’t invite me just because I might have some interest in it. If you need input from me, ask me after the meeting!!!!!

    I remember back when I actually looked forward to meetings because they helped me fill up my day. Oh to be a lowly peon again! I’m also convinced that meetings with more than 10 people where everyone is expected to contribute are worthless. These are sometimes called brainstorming sessions, but they turn into 10 separate conversations. Boo big meetings.

  2. December 20th, 2005 at 20:38 | #2

    Few meetings require more than half a dozen participants… I think people suffer from a couple of afflictions. One is just plain CYA – invite everyone so that no one can complain later they weren’t invited. Of course bad PowerPoint works the same way, if I put it in the presentation I have your tacit approval – sounds like something I’ve heard from the current administration (well, we did tell a few members of Congress so it’s perfectly OK to spy on citizens).

    Two, it spreads the blame. If I am in charge of something but I’m too chicken to make a tough call, I just get 10-15 people in a room so if it turns out I’m wrong, I can say “well, WE made this decision so if I’m an idiot so are all of you…” Of course this is just a special case of CYA!

    Three, people want to keep everyone informed but sometimes that best accomplished with a 1-1 or just email out the notes to a wider audience. Yes, I remember when I used to like meetings…now I mostly loathe them. I’ve had a few weeks where I’m pushing 30 hours….and I still have “real” work to get done!

  1. December 21st, 2005 at 20:34 | #1
  2. January 18th, 2006 at 20:27 | #2
  3. May 18th, 2013 at 15:28 | #3