Elsewhere

First Meeting of the NYC Chapter of Future of Work

We had a great start in New York last night. A long list of attendees — some old friends and many new — came together for a chance to discuss their personal reasons for coming, and then were subjected to me laying out my own rationale: for trying to bring together a Future of Work community as the start of a movement, a movement dedicated to changing the ways of work. 

I offered up a subset of my manifesto for a new way of work, entitled Leanership: A New Way Of Work (see the presentation here, at Haiku Deck). And I sketched out some thoughts about how the community might work, at the chapter level, but I know that will grow and evolve as more people become involved, and the chapters start to take on a life of their own.

Big thanks to Grind, whose wonderful Broadway coworking space was our venue. The staff were immensely helpful, and I got a minute to chat with Benjamin Dyett, one of the founders. He told me that the Chicago Grindspace has now opened, joining the two in New York City, (And the Grindism manifesto is awesome.) Later today I will be publishing an interview with Benjamin, in the Socialogy series. 

I want to especially thank Guy Alvarez, the NYC Chapter chief, for his efforts, and the larger task ahead. He and his fellow chapter chiefs — Kat Mandelstein in Austin, and Laura Gaunt in Boston — will be working over the coming months to reach out to their respective communities to pull in new voices and contributors, with new ideas about formats, speaker, and other activities.

Austin’s first meeting is this Thursday 27 March 6:30pm Austin time (Tech Ranch, 9111 Jollyville Rd, Austin, TX 78759). Please RSVP if you plan to attend. I am hoping that we can use the Interwebs so I can be piped in.

Boston’s first meeting is next week, and I will be attending. That will be held at Ideapaint, 40 Broad St, Boston MA 02109 on Thursday 3 April at 6:30pm Boston time. Please RSVP.

I’ve only seen one photo so far from last night’s event. Here I am with three members of Change Agents Worldwide, with (left to right) Rob Cladera, Joachim Stroh, me, and Dany DeGrave.

And a final invitation to join us, and to consider starting other chapters. This is the start of a movement, and we will need to incite a disruption — a discontinuity — so that some of the old, bad ways can be halted, and a new way of work can be coaxed into existence.

My New Default Meeting: 15 Minutes

I had a call with a social tools vendor the other day, getting the basic lowdown on the tool, the tool’s differentiation, and his immediate plans. I asked a few questions, agreed to getting a demo in a week or two, and we said goodbye. 17 minutes had passed.

I am not the only one who is working to get back time by making meetings dramatically shorter:

Glenn Engler, 15 Is the New 60

I’m trying my best to get rid of 60 minute meetings.  They are a crutch — if you block off 60 minutes, it will probably take 60 minutes.  My regular 1-on-1s are now 30 minutes.  If we need more time, we’ll make it — but we’ve all found that focusing on 30 minutes makes them productive.  While there are a few longer meetings on the book — client-facing, or our monthly All-Hands meeting, 30 minutes are ample time for the bulk of the other ones.

But what about 15?  If you embrace the concept of tight agendas, prepared, and solutions-focused, we can go faster.  I love it tackling a 30 minute meeting in 15. We look at each other and say “anything else?”  And the answer is “no.”  We just gained back 15 minutes.

So 15 in my new normal. 

I also noticed a feature in Google Calendar settings called ‘speedy meetings’, as I was setting the default meeting length from 60 minutes to 15. It trims time at the end of longer meetings, so that a 30 minute meeting ends 5 minutes early, and so on.

Do Meetings Make Us Stupid?

Meetings really do decrease our cognitive abilities.

Attending meetings lowers IQ, makes you stupid - Rebecca Smith

Meetings make people stupid because they impair their ability to think for themselves, scientists have found.

The performance of people in IQ tests after meetings is significantly lower than if they are left on their own, with women more likely to perform worse than men.

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Crilion Research institute in the US said people’s performance dropped when they were judged against their peers.

Read Montague, who led the study, said: “You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain-dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain-dead as well.

"We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ. Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect."

Students from two universities with an average IQ of 126 were subsequently pitted against each other, and told how they were performing in comparison to the others after answering each question.

Researchers found that most people performed worse when they were ranked against their peers, suggesting the social situation itself affected how well they completed the IQ tests.

[…]

The study raises questions over how intelligence is measured and whether it is fixed, experts said.

Co-author Steven Quartz, professor of philosophy in the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, said: “This study tells us the idea that IQ is something we can reliably measure in isolation without considering how it interacts with social context is essentially flawed.

"Furthermore, this suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other."

There is a growing body of evidence for social cognition, showing how tightly our reasoning is linked to social context and interactions. Obviously, learning what makes us more productive is primary, but seeing proof that some behaviors have negative impacts on our reasoning — like small-group competition of the sort that can occur in meetings — means that we should be reorganizing work to minimize those effects.

A number of twitterers answered my tweet, where I asked for insights into the future of everyday small group meetings.

My basic feeling about most meetings is expressed by this wisecrack:

A meeting is an interaction where the unwilling, selected from the uninformed, led by the unsuitable, to discuss the unnecessary, are required to write a report about the unimportant.

- T.A. Keyser

I can divide the recommendations into two piles, roughly: 1/ adopting new or old best practices (standing meetings, set agendas, take notes, etc.), and 2/ technological amplification.

Leslie Poston (@leslie) has the best one-liner: meetings ‘will disappear altogether in favor of always on microcommunications’.

I would paraphrase: meetings will slowly be displaced by always-on microstreaming, until only about 20% of meetings remain.

I found a 2001 study by Romano and Nunamaker that suggest that managers and knowledge workers spend between 25%-80% of their time in meetings, which is crazy even at the low end of that spread.

Peter Drucker makes the case for meetings, which can be mined for a litmus test. He wrote in The Effective Executive,

We meet because people holding different jobs have to cooperate to get a specific task done. We meet because the knowledge and experience needed in a specific situation are not available in one head, but have to be pieced together out of the knowledge and experience of several people.

So, to turn that into a tool, we should only have a meeting when it is necessary to bring together specific people who collectively have the knowledge and experience to cooperatively accomplish a specific task. Otherwise, don’t have that meeting. This means, among other things, that meetings should be focused on a single issue, not a shopping list of vaguely related topics.

There is still a place for larger format meetings, like annual company-wide meetings, or practicums where people are learning new skills. These are very different sorts of beasts.

Nearly all other purposes that hypothetically justify a meeting are better handled by microstreaming, as @leslie suggested.

Shooting From The Hip Is Not Strategic Thinking

I read this piece by Liz Webber, and I thought about so many terrible meetings in the earlier part of my career. Why are meetings generally of low value? One reason is that executives aren’t really prepared for them, and they wing it:

Leaders Need to Learn to Think So They Can Speak the Truth Clearly by Liz Weber | Switch and Shift:

I’ve observed far too many staff meetings and planning sessions in which the leaders ramble on about the teams’ failings, lecture individual employees, or otherwise berate the teams on theoretical, non-specific changes needed. Are their comments interesting? Somewhat. Helpful? No. Demoralizing? Absolutely. So why do leaders continue to do it?  From my perspective:  it’s habit; it’s quick; and most importantly, it doesn’t require any work or change by the leaders. The leaders spew and the employees are expected to react.

Here’s the real problem though, in these situations, the leaders aren’t viewing their responsibilities correctly.

The leaders in these circumstances view the employees as pawns, workers, doers or some other beings that work to produce the organization’s services or widgets. The leaders lead; the doers do. That’s fine in theory, but if leaders truly want doers to “do” at a higher level, the leaders need to learn to lead at higher levels as well. And, that takes time, work, and changes on the part of the leaders first. And that requires the leaders to think, to analyze their current situations, to assess the various drivers of the problems, to assess their roles in creating the situations and drivers, and to assess the teams’ actions, reactions, and needed new actions.

After all of that thinking, the leaders need to develop clear ways to communicate those thoughts to their teams. It means the leaders will have thought, specifically, about what they want and need to say so it’s truly helpful to their team members.

They’re no longer just spewing ideas and words and expecting the team members to form some meaning from them. They no longer practice the behavior of: You need to figure out what I’m trying to say because I haven’t taken the time to get my thoughts and words straight before I open my mouth. 

The best leaders listen more than they talk, and when they open their mouths 90% of the time they are asking questions.

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