Why we love going to meetings

Al Pittampalli has written a great book, “Read This Before Our Next Meeting”, that I would suggest you all run out and buy or download to your e-book reader today. He not only examines all that is wrong with our meeting culture and the way we meet, but recommends what every organization should do to fix it. Given the number of copies sold in the few weeks since it’s release, it it clear he has touched a nerve and tapped into the frustrations that we all feel about the bad meetings we are asked/forced to attend.

I will only offer this one bit of advice. Don’t be too surprised or disappointed if your meetings never change.

That’s not a slight against Al or his book. In fact, I agree with everything he has to say about the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of a typical meeting. They are too long, too unproductive, too unfocused, and too boring, often incapable of producing the results we hope for. The problem is we humans like them that way. (Well, maybe like is the wrong word. I’d say prefer.)

When our ancient ancestor Thor would call together his fellow hunters and plan out the next day’s expedition, I’m willing to bet he talked too long, had poor presentation skills, and let Gork and Zog sidetrack the meeting by arguing about who had the bigger spear. I’m sure it was an unproductive mess and a complete waste of time, but something they couldn’t live without. Literally.  You see, our early relative’s survival depended on cooperation and companionship. Living and hunting alone in the plains of Africa was a dangerous thing for a creature who had no fangs, no claws, and was not very big, strong, or fast. They needed some help. And if that meant sitting through one of Thor’s mind-numbing, stone age powerpoint presentations, well then so be it. Being invited and bored was a heck of a lot better than being excluded and dead.

We haven’t outgrown our primitive DNA. We still meet for reasons that have very little to do with efficiency or productivity. We meet because we are human and we don’t want to be left alone. That’s why meetings drag on too long and why they are often unproductive and lack focus. We feel a certain safety when we are together. When we meet we establish bonds, are made aware of the group’s plans, and ensure that no one is talking or plotting against us. Those are the subconscious priorities that were wired in our brains thousands of years ago and still exist today.

Meetings are not a creation of our modern society. They are an integral part of what makes us social animals and have been around ever since human beings started communicating with one another. You could argue that our desire to gather and meet is, in fact, what makes us human. They are a social construct with a purposeful goal, not the other way around. And that is where the problems lie. No matter how hard we try to make our meetings more efficient, more productive and less often, our need to simply be together is too strong.

Al Pittampalli’s book can absolutely help transform the meeting culture of your organization and I encourage you to give his methods a try. Just don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than you think. After all, we are only human.