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Too Many Meetings! Creating Spiritual Clarity at Work

November 19, 2009

Yesterday, all of the senior executives gathered in the Board Room to have a meeting about meetings. Apparently, some people have been complaining that we are having too many.

I will be the first to admit there may be some truth to this. Over the past several months we have chartered one team after another to attack a wide swath of initiatives, projects, strategies, and urgent priorities. However, in our enthusiasm for Getting Things Done, it appears that we may have buried many of our most valuable managers in a sea of projects that may never actually get completed in our lifetime.

How Can We Be So Busy and Produce So Few Results?

To prepare for our senior executive meeting about meetings, we asked one of the junior spreadsheet wonks from the finance department to cough up a matrix listing every team project and initiative throughout the organization, and also a roster of who is on each of these teams.

“This will be good,” we said to ourselves. “Yes. Let us take stock of our meeting situation.”

The Board room lights were dimmed, and the Meeting Inventory Spreadsheet was projected up on to the screen, larger than life. Across the top was every major team initiative that we knew of, and then down the vertical side were the names of the people on the various teams. Each horizontal row had big X’s to mark where that person was assigned to a team.

It turns out that corporate life is just like church: we discovered that 20% of the managers were participating in 80% of the teams. These were the same managers who were yammering about having too many meetings. Looking at that spreadsheet, you also couldn’t help but notice there were a whole bunch of other names with no check marks next to them, no matter how far you went out in the screen view. Those were the people that weren’t doing anything at all, other than their regular jobs. Slackers. No wonder these managers were complaining. We had given all the work to the few that we all thought were the most capable.

“Hmm,” We said, upon this realization, carefully examining the chart.

Then one very bright executive vice president spoke up:

“This explains why we seem to be so busy all the time without getting any results.” The rest of us nodded our heads in hearty agreement.

“Makes sense,” chimed in the VP of Sales.

“Yup. These guys are drowning,” said the CFO.

“This time we have really gone too far,” said another executive, as we hung our heads in shame.

Well, that part’s not true. For goodness sake, no executive worth his salt is going to apologize for going a little overboard pursuing worthy projects! All we were trying to do was to maintain an aggressive position to keep our heads above water for another fiscal year. It just happened to get a bit lopsided.

This situation reminded me of something a wise friend of mine had said recently:

 “Don’t confuse activity with action.”

In other words, just because someone looks really, really busy, it does not necessarily mean that he is being very productive. Sometimes it means the opposite – you are so busy working on so many different things, that nothing important is getting accomplished at all.

Purge and Prioritize to Focus Energy on the Greatest Potential

All of us bright executives gathered in the Board room that day quickly went to work on developing a “Meeting Optimization Program,” where we began to prioritize and streamline all of the project teams. We eliminated some, beefed up others, put some on a waiting list, and then shuffled the deck of players so that we were utilizing more of our people, while ultimately limiting each person to three teams, max.

That’s better. Now we can really get something accomplished. I can’t tell you the relief and clarity we felt after purging through that list.

God is Not a God of Confusion

The Apostle Paul made and important but obvious point about best practices for organizational behavior when he was addressing the Corinthian church. By all accounts, this was a church that had gone off the deep end of meeting chaos, with people scrambling every which-way trying to get busy with Jesus. Plus they all wanted to be the loudest voice in their church meetings. Paul attempted to break through all the madness with this simple message in I Corinthians 14:33:

“God is not a God of confusion, but a God of peace.”

It’s difficult to feel spiritually effective in your organization when you are on meeting overdrive, wondering if you are channeling the best and highest use of your time and energy. As executives, of course, we are just interested in getting as much done as we can with as few resources as possible. So we dump. But sometimes it’s necessary to step back and reevaluate, to get focused, to distinguish the activity from the action.

Paul knew that clarity brings order, and that order brings peace. Peace brings spiritual clarity. And we could all use more of this at work.

Do you experience confusion at work, or a focused energy?
What can you do as a leader to bring more spiritual clarity to your organization?


8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2009 4:50 pm

    I love it…A meeting about having too many meetings!

    My biggest thing is the illusion of Communication.
    It seems that most managers these days confuse “information” with “communication.”

    They dump data, charts, and other meaningless things, clap their hands together and just presume they’ve done their jobs.

    It all comes down to, as you said, simplicity.

    It takes a little work and thought to boil things, to keep them from being ‘confusing,’ but its a management imperative.


  2. November 19, 2009 7:26 pm

    If the competition knew how much time we spent in meetings, useless and otherwise, we’d be dead. Except they’re as bad as we are.

    The biggest problem I have with meetings is that they too often become a substitute for action. Meetings give the impression of progress and activity, but they’re often just a way to avoid making decisions.

    I was in one today that was borderline bizarre — the jargon police would have arrested the entire gathering. I kept asking, “But does this mean we do? What do we need to do? What does ‘doing’ look like?” Made people uncomfortable but finally got something done — a meeting to decide what “doing” looks like. Sigh.

    Good post.

  3. nancy permalink
    November 20, 2009 12:38 pm

    senior executives
    get someone to cough up a matrix listing
    of every team project and initiative throughout the organization,
    and a roster of who is on each of these teams.

    i must be quite a job to keep track of what is going on, what has been done, and what needs to be done by which person.

    a listing/chart…information that can be seen, as things change and progress, has got to be a very valuable and ongoing tool for this job.

    a guide for the people in charge.
    i love as well that meeting took place because someone was listening to feedback from workers about having too much of something, in this case, meetings.

    it really is good to listen to one another.

    great post.

  4. donkimrey permalink
    November 22, 2009 4:08 pm

    Sure you aren’t talking about a Baptist Church? I mean, “A committee on committees?” A meeting to decide what to do about too many meetings? Doesn’t that begin to be question begging? Is anyone in charge? Can anyone make decisions?

    Do you suppose a meeting on developing leaders, how to delegate responsibility, how to make decisions, how to expect accountability, etc. might be in order?

    I would oppose autocracy or demagoguery. But there’s something to be said for real leadership. Getting mired up in too many meetings would have driven Lee Iaococca and Winston Churchill nuts. I was never especially fond of Ross Perot, but I did read somewhere that if the street has potholes, you don’t need another committee (or meeting.). Just fix the potholes. That may be an over simplification. But aren’t we guilty of the opposite extreme when so much of our time is spent in too many meaningless meetings?

  5. November 22, 2009 8:46 pm

    Oh, our company does this… and is it ever frustrating. There are a couple of key folks who also have so much to say in every meeting that meetings go 10 minutes long. We quickly get backed up like the doctor’s office when appointments run over.

    Being on the more operational end of things, I also see that for everything meeting with 6 people, 10 minutes over the allotted time is equating to an hour of lost time in the course of a day. Baffling.

    I will take the quote “don’t confuse activity with action” into my work week and try to herd the cats into keeping the meetings short.


  6. November 22, 2009 8:47 pm


    Okay, I must confess to being one of those few people who absolutely love meetings. The PowerPoint presentations, lunch ordered in, danishes in the morning – what’s not to like? Sure, too many meetings is not very productive, but I still loved them.

    Unfortunately, having work pile up while you’re in the meeting was never fun. It is nice that someone on your team got the brilliant idea to actually look at the meetings you were having in an objective way. Too many times we rely on the same people to get our initiatives accomplished because we know that they will get them done correctly.

    What we miss is that they end up being overworked, under appreciated, and under supported. We usually find this out after they “suddenly” leave for another job, and it takes several people to pick up the slack from their leaving. Too many times we just chalk it up to them being poor at delegating and keep our blinders on.

    Keeping better track of who is on your initiatives and maintaining a balanced allocation of your labor force not only helps prevent this kind of burnout, but it also helps you discover new talent in your organization. It’s a great idea, and i am glad you shared it with us.


  7. August 1, 2010 9:37 am

    I absolutely love your statement about what Paul knew: “….clarity brings order, and order brings peace.”

    This is profoundly true, and without understanding this, as you have so clearly explained, we stand the risk of experiencing another Bible writer’s statement in the book of Ecclesiasticus: 2:11 ” I then reflected on all that my hands had achieved and all the effort I had put into its achieving. What futility it all was, what chasing after the wind!”

    This is a fansastic piece, that speaks so true to life and our constant efforts to ‘win the game’ so to speak when in fact all we are doing is chasing our tails.

  8. August 1, 2010 9:38 am

    That should have read “…the book of Ecclesiastes 2:11…”

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