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How to save the world from bad meetings

5 Mins

It’s Monday morning, you’re getting ready for a day at work and this guy that you sort of recognise from down the hall, walks right into your cubicle and steals your chair. He doesn’t say a word – just rolls away with it. That’s how Grady began a six-minute conference talk on how to save the world from bad meetings.

Grady places the primary blame on meeting attenders – those who choose to inflict themselves with what he describes as MAS: mindless accept syndrome.

Grady claimed that attending a meeting without a clear purpose or agenda, and in which you are unsure of your role or contribution, simply doesn’t benefit anyone. He said: “When this highly unproductive session is over, you go back to your desk and you say, ‘Boy, I wish I had those two hours back. Like I wish I had my chair back.'”

He explained that every day, we allow our co-workers to steal from us. 

“And I’m talking about something far more valuable than office furniture,” he said. “I’m talking about time. In fact, I believe that we are in the middle of a global epidemic of a terrible new illness known as MAS. The primary symptom is just accepting a meeting invitation the minute it pops up in your calendar.”

Meetings are important, right? Collaboration is crucial to the success of any enterprise, and a well-run meeting can yield positive results. However, the way we work makes us miserable. We’re miserable not because the “other guy can’t run a good meeting,” he said, it’s because of MAS – a self-inflicted wound.

A couple of years ago, he put a video on YouTube whereby he acted out every terrible conference call you’ve ever been on. According to Grady, some of the biggest companies in the world have asked for his permission to use the video as part of a training process to teach employees how not to run a meeting.

Some of the posted comments by viewers have included: “It’s funny because it’s true. Eerily, sadly, depressingly true. It made me laugh until I cried. And cried. And I cried some more.” Another said: “Loved it! You forgot heavy breathing, wind from someone walking, a person picking up another call and hold music playing on the line, and a toilet flush thrown in for good measure.”

So what’s the solution? Grady refers to it as No MAS! “A common theme running through all of these comments online is this fundamental belief that we are powerless to do anything other than go to meetings, suffer and live to meet another day,” he said. “But the truth is, we’re not powerless at all. In fact, the cure for MAS is right here in our hands. It’s something that I call No MAS. If I remember my high school Spanish correctly it means something like, ‘Enough already, make it stop’!”

No MAS is based on two primary principles:

  1. When you receive a meeting invitation that’s missing desired information, click the “tentative” button;
  2. Next, get in touch with the meeting proposer. Tell the proposer that you’re very excited to support his or her work, ask about the goal of the meeting, and find out if (and how) you can be of help in achieving that goal.

Grady hopes that No MAS might just lead people to give a little more thought to their meeting invitations. Maybe they’ll start including an agenda, or send an email to give a status update instead of initiating a 12-person conference call.

He concluded: “People just might start to change their behaviour because you changed yours. And they just might bring your chair back, too.”

Another way to spruce meetings up, according to Nilofer Merchant of the Harvard Business Review, is to stop sitting around in a meeting room. When she needs to talk to people, she takes them on a walk.

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