Friday, October 5, 2018

Meetings should be like salt...


 The full quote which I have borrowed for the title is as follows:
Meetings should be like salt - a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful.  Too much salt destroys a dish.  Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.                                                               Jason Fried


Yeah, no kidding.  That's why I'm posting.  Sat in a marathon of them yesterday and got absolutely nothing accomplished.  Here's another quote:

People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything. - Thomas Sowell

Meetings -  you either love 'em or hate 'em.  Notice how I said "you" and not "I"?  I definitely don't love them.  I could nicely straddle the line and say that I have a love-hate relationship with meetings, but who am I kidding?  It's mostly hate.  That's usually because we don't actually accomplish much of anything in them.  Waste of time, time sump, time suck, all bluster and no muster, all suck and no blow, lotta churn and no burn, etc.  I can go on, so I will.

 John Wooden, the 10 time NCAA Championship UCLA Bruins Basketball coach once said "Never confuse activity with achievement."  That's what meetings seem to be- activity with no achievement.

One more before I start explaining myself:

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.”
Dave Barry 

Why do we not get anything done in meetings?  It's probably for several reasons, including, and mostly because of, the people running them.  There's blame with the people attending, but we'll focus on the first one for now-  the leader.  The leader calls the meeting, but sends out no agenda, no objectives, and no groundwork laid out ahead of time.  There's no preparation of the battlespace.  In the best meetings, everything you want to accomplish is actually done before the meeting.  The worst- nobody attends, no prep, and no decisions are made.  Also too many meetings are almost solely informational, with information passed that could have and should have been distributed via email.  Or the group is not empowered to made decisions- leaders sending underlings who don't know what to say, or aren't authorized to say what the boss wants, or they have to check back before giving a response, which just scuttles the whole meeting.

In the Department of the Navy we have active duty military, government service (GS) civilians, and contractors.  Active and GS can speak for the government, but contractors are often sent and they aren't empowered to do much other than provide a status of what they're working or what they can do, not what should be done.  It gets frustrating when we need something from a govie, but only the contractors show up to the meetings.

Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.

Peter Drucker
I also abhor the meeting organizer/leader who loves to hear himself speak.  They have a captive audience, the bigger the better, and they drone on and on, using 25 words when one will do, boring everyone in the process.  Nobody gets paid by the word in the Navy, but there are several in my command that think they do.  Or even worse than the bloviating leader, is the celebrity- the guy or gal that loves the spotlight and hijacks the meeting with their knowledge, or with an innane question that takes forever to ask or answer.




There are other types of meeting attendees:

The Doodler.  Works of art are created in the margins of meeting handouts, of their notebook, maybe even on their hands.  I have been known to doodle, but more due to boredom than as an artistic outlet or sign of genius as this article suggests.  

Here's one guy who is definitely an artistic genius doodler:



The Sleeper.  This is the guy or gal whose head is practicing touch and goes throughout the meeting, nodding off like a true professional.  I'm that guy.  I'm just bored in meetings and have trouble staying awake as the speaker drones on incessantly.  Coffee helps sometimes, but not always.  Writing blog posts helps too, like this one, which is what I was doing while sitting in one of those meetings yesterday.  A boss I had a couple years ago was a 100 hour touch and go pilot.  Being the N8 Department Head, his chair was at the end of the table, furthest away from the Admiral.  He'd turn his chair to the screen and nap and no one was the wiser.

There's also "The Texter."  The attendee who is constantly on his or her phone, who completely ignores the meeting.  Now I'd be one of those, probably not texting, but playing Words with Friends, if I didn't work in a secure building where phones aren't allowed.  It's a great way to avoid the monotony of a meeting, and work on your vocabulary at the same time!


Image result for Donut eater in a meeting
CNN


"The Eater."  This is a person who might be able to provide worthwhile input, but he's mainly there for the donuts.  He's good for at least 2 donuts out of a dozen, and quite possibly a third on the way out if there's any left.  

There's also the special breed with in the Eater category called "The Luncher."  He's the guy who brings his 5 course meal with him into a meeting since he won't miss or delay his lunch.  This includes snacking on noisy chips, and putting his gigantic Yeti tumbler on the table in full view of or even almost blocking the VTC camera.  True story.  He sat at the end of the table, about 2 feet from the camera which was a table height, and his 50 gallon drum of a drink container was the star of the show for a while.   

Image result for Water tumbler

Speaking of tumblers, meetings often have "The Drinker"- always with a big tumbler or venti Starbucks cup of coffee.  Or maybe even the half-gallon container of what is probably water, but could be full of vodka or wine for all I know.  We have a lot of these folks in the Navy.  It used to be coffee, all day long, out of a 10 oz mug like this one:


But now we've got health nuts who crave their water and hydrate throughout the day.  They carry their tumblers like a security blanket.  I'm joking, but only a little.  They even have these containers as large as 84 ounces nowadays! Who drinks that much water? Maybe they do it so they have to pee and they can slip out of a meeting.  I'm not ready to add "the pee-er" to the list though.

There are probably more types of people at meetings, but I haven't noticed them since I was most likely asleep.  I know we have to have meetings to communicate and work things out face to face, but why I need to attend so many of them is beyond me.  A friend in industry says that if he wants to schedule a meeting, his program has to cover the time ($) of others within his own company!  Which to me is an outstanding way to keep meetings and attendees to a minimum.

A couple more quotes:

“I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda for more meetings about meetings.”
Jonah Goldberg 
“Because meetings involve people, things can and will go wrong. Provide first aid when necessary.”
Emily M. Axelrod,
Let's Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done
In general, I think the longer a meeting is, and the more participants, the less effective they are.  Necessary evil I suppose, but I don't have to like it.  One final quote:

Meetings are at the heart of an effective organization, and each meeting is an opportunity to clarify issues, set new directions, sharpen focus, create alignment, and move objectives forward...                                                                      Paul Axtel
 Except when they're not.  Meeting adjourned.  Sarge is on the mend so we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming soon.
Mekjkjetings should be like salt - a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/meetings

51 comments:

  1. Being retired I don't miss the weekly staff meetings we had, MOST of the time they were short but sometimes they ran long....long enough to try to remember the seppuku ritual. No eaters in our meetings but the coffee drinkers...... those pre-cellphone hordes who sloowwly trudged along holding that vessel filled to the brim with such a pungent odor.

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    1. I always fought the coffee zombies by fixing the coffee just the way the coffee can said to fix it. For some reason, real coffee zombies don't like 'normal' coffee.

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  2. Tuna.
    Good post.
    Your points are all valid and well taken.
    I have found that a slight change to the thermostat setting works well to shorten meetings.

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    1. Ha ha. Lucky you, working in a place where the thermostat does anything.

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    2. Um, what's a "thermostat"? (They are all hidden where I work.)

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    3. Sarge remembers when “turn up the thermostat” meant “throw another log on the fire” ... or “wrap up in a second mammoth skin.” :)

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    4. Unfortunately, it's an icebox in my building, even in the summer.

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    5. Ah, a bear, you know me too well.

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    6. Augh, the thermostat wars. Want to put me to full-drooling snooze? Give me a warm, still room. Add droners and I'm gone. Used to make sure to carry dead pens so I could stab myself to keep me awake. That and binder clips to the frog of my thumbs.

      Now, a freezing cold room with good air movement? Well, that's my natural habitat. I'll stay awake in there.

      Funny, the people who can wear summer dresses and dress skorts and other un-attire complain when we troglodytes who are mandated to wear long-sleeve business shirts with tie and full slacks and dress shoes (not sandals, oh no, not sandals) complain when we troglodytes turn the temp of the room down to where we don't turn into a sweat-soaked blob, because they're c-c-c-cooooold.

      Nicest thing about not working is avoiding the thermostat wars.

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  3. Meetings like salt? Salt was a fundamental contributor to the development of human civilization. The importance of food preservation cannot be overerestimated. The fact that we still say someone is “worth their salt” and we get paid a “salary” is just a tiny reminder of salt’s importance to human history, to food, to trade, and all the attendant trappings.

    Without salt, no civilization.

    Without salt, humans die.

    (I do not think Fried thought his similie all the way through. :) )

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    1. And who was the richest guy in the Bible? Saul! He had a whole wife of salt. Talk about coming out on the right side of a bad marriage.

      In today's 'modern' 1st world world, the importance of salt has been forgotten. I know serious preppers who, after I've toured their extensive preps, have not had one lick of salt anywhere. Lots of ammo, mres and other freeze dried food, even bunches of fish medicine (it's a thing in the prepper world, fish antibiotics). But minimal amounts of salt.

      It's the way my weird mind works, finding the obscure. Pointing out that salt is a food preservative, important to daily life especially in its Iodized version for those not eating salt-water fish, and an excellent currency after the fall of civilization.

      That, and all the cheap spices one can buy from the Dollar Tree. Once they get the whole 'Voyages of Discovery' fueled by the search for salt and spices, they get it.

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  4. I don't suppose that saying ' Sorry I've real work to do ' would fly. Likely one of the reasons I'm unemployed.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. No. My boss thinks he's grooming me for his job when he retires in 1951 days (he has a counter). But everyone here knows that the only way to promote is to leave and take some other job. They hire retired O-6's by the barrel here now, even for the somewhat junior GS jobs. I do the exact same thing as my boss, and he just approves what I do, but I'd bet my retirement on the fact that I'll never be considered. I'm not bitter, I just understand the O-6 mafia.

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    2. You only have one boss? Lucky bastige. My last job I answered directly to 7 or more (depending on the day) 'direct' supervisors, all who had competing and contrary requirements. That, and the TPS reports, may have contributed to me losing my mind...

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    3. And don't you just hate it when they open a new position both to in-house and out-house candidates, and it's always the out-house candidate that gets the job?

      Or, even worse, vice-versa, when a division/department/unit has an opening and they open it up to everyone and it still goes to the unqualified boob (who somehow seems to be related to the boss) who's already working in the division/department/unit at a lower position that is already two paygrades and several light-years far away from what meager job their puny, unused, pitiful mind can actually do.

      (No, I have never seen someone who got fired at MickyD's for not being able to understand how to work the fryer (press button for basket to go down, basket automatically goes up, alarm rings when done.) and yet is now promoted past you to do the job you've been doing (out of paygrade and without the pay, of course) and now you answer to them and still do their damned job.

      I know nothing about 5 extended family clans and 2 fundie churches that control the local city government. Nope, I know nothing, I see nothing...

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  5. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” Petronius Arbiter

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  6. Meetings and salt, good analogy, necessary but only in small amounts.
    A half hour meeting is about 25 minutes too long.

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    1. As much can be accomplished at a party and everyone enjoys them so much better.

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  7. Wow, meetings, formerly the bane of my existence. I might someday share "Sarge's Rules for Avoiding Meetings and Still Not Get Fired."

    It's doable.

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    1. I found that having 'teenage skin' and really bad allergies made me the loathsome ogre that some people, who only surrounded themselves with the beautiful (and mostly vacuous) people, tried to un-invite from meetings. Which actually made me want to attend, especially when sporting two or three 'rhino horns' or when ears and nose are allergy-drooling.

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  8. Meetings are for those who desire doing nothing to do so while appearing to do somthing and appease those who pay them for doing something while still satisfying their need to do nothing.

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  9. My after-Navy employment involved working with one of the three letter agencies of our beloved government. I was in one of their endless meetings one day and realized "OMG, we are having a meeting to plan meetings!"

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  10. In the SCA, we have, unfortunately, needs for administrative positions. One of those is 'Herald,' both for being the announcer at meetings (and 'courts,' Oyez, oyez, oyez,) and for paperwork reasons (that whole heraldry shield devices thingy and also getting 'official' names passed.)

    So we had local heralds all the way up to various kingdom-level heralds, all under the Kingdom Herald (the whole assemblage called 'the college of heralds.') Kingdom also answered to the Society wide COH and to the Society Herald.

    One of the Kingdom Heralds I served under, an-ex Navy senior enlisted, ran his meetings as such. 1. Here's a packet of what's new, read it and use it. 2. Anyone got any specific problems, meet with me afterwards, like from home on the phone. 3. Are we done, good, go!

    He was followed up by an admin-puke of a Kingdom Herald, where every meeting (about 35-50 people) would be one person saying something, then the next person saying the same thing, and so forth until everyone got a chance to say the same thing, and then the next topic was broached. And often the same topic was re-introduced and re-ran around the room again and again. Kingdom Herald in real life was a senior project manager at Wally-World. Makes you think Disney would climb out of his grave and go beat some sense into someone at The Rat.

    Me and a collection of misfits would play paper football, sleep, or do other detrimental things during the meetings of the dull. I usually showed up wearing funked out and sweat-full armor and fighting garb, so it kinda chased off the more effete herald-types. Something about dripping sweaty dirt on their herald art-projects or something.

    Don't even get me started on the nerds talking about what they did at Herald Camp. Seriously.

    Most SCA Heralds and heralds need to emulate Harold and go play catch with arrows. (Harold Godwinson, King of England, got an arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings.)

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    1. Whoa dude! An arrow in the eye? Dang, too soon man, too soon!

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    2. Ah, am I rubbing salt in the wound?

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    3. Ow! Salt? Dude!

      We should have a meeting to discuss this.

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    4. Okay, I've scheduled the Sub-Arctic room at 0100, attendance mandatory, no bathroom breaks, must drink one gallon of water while prepping for a colonoscopy. Background music will be provided by the Hillary Shrieking Choir and Claws across the Chalkboard.

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  11. It's good to be getting regular Tuna Pisrs!

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    1. I thought tunas pisred in the seas?

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    2. "BeansOctober 5, 2018 at 11:23 AM

      I thought tunas pisred in the seas?"

      SEE! I told you that you do it better than I do.

      Paul L. Quandt

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    3. As Robin Hood wood say, "Thank Yew, Thank Yew very much."

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  12. My 30 yrs USMC, USAF and USA-GS eperience tells me meetings are 2 steps back for every step forward. The best meetings I ever had were chaired by a former SAC Aircraft Commander, who always published a detailed bullet point agenda the day before. Popups were at the discretion of said AC, and as he was fond of saying, “you better have good GD reason why I didn’t know about this yesterday”.

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  13. Definition of a camel---a horse designed by a committee.

    “you better have good GD reason why I didn’t know about this yesterday”.

    Bingo. The admin-puke described by Beans is a telling symptom of lack of leadership. Everything that each individual has to say should already have gone up the chain of command. I actually got to attend such a meeting at Brigade level (I was a lowly puke on Bn staff). The Brigade XO ran the meeting at the behest of the CO. This guy had it down. Bullet point agenda. Once around the table, everyone got their say, but anything extraneous was cut short. Next! I was sitting upright thinking "Holly shinola, if this keeps up, we might actually get something done!". Sadly, said XO moved on far too soon.

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    1. That ex-navy Herald guy? His goal was to have a meeting with 40 people in less than 5 minutes. He achieved his goal a couple times.

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    2. "...I was a lowly puke on Bn staff..."

      RGT447: What kind of lowly puke ( i.e.: what was your job ) and what kind of bn ( infantry, armor, field artillery ? ). Inquiring minds want to know.

      Paul

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    3. Ok. Bear with me. I'm going to set this up a bit and throw in some side notes (just for fun) so folks reading my comments elsewhere won't be left scratching their heads. Besides, you did say "Inquiring minds want to know"... ;>)
      First, a question. Didn't you say you at one time on the editorial staff of 'Military' Magazine? If so, some of this may be familiar to you.

      I am a mustang. I entered Army Basic at Fort Ord in 1974.

      Side note--In 1941, so did my father. He was inducted two weeks before Pearl Harbor. Briefly guarded the West Coast as a green recruit with a baseball bat. Later wound up flying B-17's.

      Served my three year enlistment in (the former) West Germnay (MOS Small Arms Repair). Discharged as a Sgt. (E5) at Ft. Dix 16 February 1977.

      Side note--My maternal grandfather was discharged from the Army Air Service at Camp Dix as a 2Lt. on 23 February 1919.

      In 1983, I joined the California State Military Reserve (CSMR) as a 2lt. assigned to the 102nd Infantry Bn HQ'd at the NG armory in Oroville. There wasn't much 'infantry' to it. We were heavily involved in developing assistance to the NG in the event of their mobilization, and taking over for them afterwards. IIRC, and to answer your question, the meeting I described took place in the late 80's. It was at the 58th street NG armory in Sacramento. I had made captain by then and was the Bn S-3. At that point, I was the only CSMR officer who had led a CSMR assistance team during a one week physical, load up all your stuff and go, NG unit mobilization drill.

      Side note--In December of '93 I was promoted to Major on the drill floor of the 58th street armory. My father was there to pin on my gold leaves.

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    4. Oh dear, you said "bear with me."

      a bear chiming in, in 3... 2...

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    5. RHT: "First, a question. Didn't you say you at one time on the editorial staff of 'Military' Magazine? If so, some of this may be familiar to you."

      Yes, I was the editorial staff ( and everything else ) at ' Military ' for a period of time. As I grew up an Army/Air Force brat, served in the USAF, CalARNG, and the USAF Reserve and am the proud holder of two National Defense medals, you might safely guess that I understand what you wrote.

      Thanks for your reply.
      Paul L. Quandt

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    6. P.S.

      I was my battalion's S-2 as an E-6. As I was usually the only one in the S-2 shop, I was both the S-2 NCO ( an E-8 slot ) and the S-2 officer ( an O-3 slot ). Actually got to play O-3 for one ARTEP.

      Paul

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  14. Forgot to add this. For "The Drinkers".

    Lewis Black. Some strong language.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9NgP5WP7bE

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    1. Thanks, he is sometimes amusing.

      PLQ

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    2. Either I have no tastebuds or it's not that bad, but I drink tap water all the time.

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    3. Depends on where you live, Long Beach, MS back in '87 had tap water that if you let it sit for a minute or so in the sink, left a very brown ring. Tasted like crap as well.

      OTOH, the tap water where I grew up was pure nectar. And we had a spring up in the woods behind the house. I suspect Mr. Black is a "city feller," not meant as a compliment. Though he IS funny.

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  15. Hey OldAFSarge, what's up with your gubernatorial and attorney general candidates? What the heck are you people up in Rhode Island doing?

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    1. One doesn't get to actually choose candidates or elected officials. One merely (always) gets to vote for the lesser of two evils.

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    2. Ha! Ain't that the truth.

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    3. Orcs, they're frigging orcs. Pot head orcs to boot.

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  16. I like the rule for speeches at RAVEN conventions/reunions. All speeches must be given w. one hand submerged in a bowl of ice-water. :)

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    1. That needs to be my command's new policy. I'll see if I can get that approved at the next meeting.

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  17. A well run meeting is actually a joy.(Everybody leaves knowing what they need to know and do and sure that everyone else has the same knowlege and expectations. The longest such meeting I was in was maybe 20 minutes and all meetings start on time. A poorly run meeting is a complete waste of time. I've been in both and run a bunch. A meeting without an agenda well in advance won't find me there.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)