Not All Meetings Are Toxic

Toxic Meetings

As some of you already know, I’ve launched a new business with some entrepreneurial friends called The Board. This is effectively a pseudo board of directors for your business made up of experienced business owners from non-competing, complimentary sectors. The Board meets every month to discuss current business issues, helping members make important decisions that can be implemented immediately to improve their business.

I passionately believe in the concept and have (hand on heart) benefited hugely from my own membership on The Board since it’s initial inception almost 18 months ago.

However, I am also a big follower of 37signals‘ business approach, who believe that meetings are toxic. If you haven’t heard of these guys before, take 5 minutes to read a few excerpts from their new book, called Rework, where they devote an entire chapter of the book to explain why meetings are toxic and should be avoided at all costs.

On a daily basis I rant and rave about 37signals’ approach to business, and on this point I agree with them that most meeting are toxic. However some meetings are necessary, even vital, to a businesses success.

So, I find myself in a position where the people that know me could potentially be confused by my apparent double stance on this issue. In this post, I want to address these two positions, and justify why I believe so passionately in both, despite the fact that they seem contradictory.

Toxic Meetings

Meetings become toxic when:

  • you don’t need to be there;
  • you have no power to make a decision at the meeting;
  • it’s outcome does not affect you;
  • your points of view are not considered;
  • there is no reason to hold the meeting in the first place;

If one or more of the above scenarios is true, then that meeting will be a waste of time for you and you should avoid it.

Productive Meetings

Meetings are awesome when:

  • you have a pressing issue that you need advice on;
  • you have the power to make a decision on the issue by yourself;
  • it’s outcome has the potential to have a massive impact on your personal and/or business life;
  • your own input into the meeting is valued and respected;
  • there is a strict agenda which steers the course of the meeting;

In these cases, meetings can be incredibly powerful. And if, when a meeting is called, all of these scenarios are true then it’s simply vital that you attend.

Another Reason Meetings Work

Most people live in their comfort zone. They go through their life keeping the status quo amongst their peers. Regardless of what social circle they’re in, most people will do whatever it takes, deliberately or not, to maintain that status quo.

Here’s an interesting fact:

If you take the salaries of all your friends, and then get the average, chances are, that’s what you earn.

That’s an amazingly powerful insight.

Most people are afraid of failure, but even more afraid of success. (more on this in another post soon) but suffice it to say that by becoming a success you are breaking the mould of your peers, and forcing change upon your own life, which can be very stressful and potentially lonely.

Most people can’t (or won’t) push themselves out of their comfort zone. A lot of people have blockages to their on success (myself included) and I see time and time again, cases where they sabotage their own potential because it means leaving their comfort zone. Again, I’ve done this to myself more times then I can remember. It’s something I’m working hard on improving.

Productive meetings work, because in them people are pushed outside of their comfort zone. They’re encouraged to make the right decision, not the easy decision. They’re given insights that they may have otherwise dismissed because of their own mental blocks or personal baggage.

After a really great meeting, people feel motivated, energised, determined and focused. And without the advice and encouragement from other participants of the meeting, I simply don’t think that’s possible.

Yes, some meetings are toxic. But we’re not all 37signals. Some of us need help getting past our issues (most of which I believe is a result of how we perceive the world, rather than how the world actually is – again, that’s for another post). For this we need the help of others who are willing to push us out of our comfort zones and onto the fast track (or the slow track, depending on what your goals are).

Yes, I’m a 37signals fanboi, but yes, I’m also a huge believer in productive meetings. The Board has helped me break through some very serious issues in the past. And I look forward having them help me make more decisions for years to come into the future.

Disclaimer: I am a co-founder and shareholder of The Board.


2 Comments added. Add comment?

  1. Padraig says:

    what do you do though if you find yourself in a Board meeting and you just don’t feel that its serving your business for the month? It’s common for business networks like this to have good sessions and bad sessions, the membership could be seen as very steep if it was a dud.
    it sounds great though, and cheers for the heads up on the new 37signals book!

    Apr 18, 2010
  2. Iarfhlaith says:

    Hey Padraig,

    During the ‘beta’ period (for want of a better term) I took part in over a dozen meetings. I agree that some were more productive than others but ultimately this was completely dependant on the amount of preparation work I had put in beforehand.

    If I went to a meeting without spending some time thinking about what I wanted from it, and considering my own issues, then when it came for me to discuss my problems and ask for help, I sometimes wasted the opportunity.

    People can only help you with the problems you present them with.

    However, when I was prepared (i.e. giving 15 minutes thought into my goals for the meeting) I’d ask far more intelligent questions and as a result would get far more useful feedback and advice from the other board members.

    Also, as well as that, I find that at every meeting, regardless of whether I’ve done some prep work or not, I learn from other people’s issues. And strangely enough, I learn by giving other people advice too. It solidifies in my own mind when I’m telling other people what I think.

    Just in relation to the cost (which is €200 a month), there are a range of other services available in addition to the monthly meeting. These include access to a PA for a Day, a negotiation service, partner discounts, one emergency meeting a year, monthly meetups, and a range of other perks too.

    I hope this helps. If you’ve got any other questions, you’re best off contacting Anita at The Board, as she’ll be able to tell you exactly what’s included.

    As for the 37signals book. Hope you enjoy it! Other books like it that I rate very highly include: Tribes by Seth Godin, The Longtail by Chris Anderson, and Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk. All well worth a read.

    Apr 27, 2010

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