"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Meetings Suck

Here at The Petting Zoo, people have a love/hate relationship with meetings. On the one hand, they like meetings enough to schedule them frequently. On the other hand, sometimes we have an hour-long meeting on Flaming Kangaroo Gas, and before not three days have gone by, we have another hour-long meeting on the same thing. As interesting as Flaming Kangaroo Gas may be and as important as it may seem to talk about it frequently, two (or even three!) meetings that close together don't accomplish anything. People go through their "to do" lists from the previous meeting, and simply state that they have started Whatever It Is but not finished. The meeting ends and everyone resolves to continue doing Whatever It Is they already know they're supposed to be doing and report back at the next meeting.

Gah. Somebody diligently takes notes (today it happened to be me, but we take turns), noting tasks for everyone, and the notes get circulated so everybody double knows Whatever It Is they're supposed to be doing that they already know they're supposed to be doing and have now just wasted another hour NOT doing.

You know you have a problem with meetings when the notes for consecutive meetings are more or less the same.

Everyone, you get the sense, feels somewhat imposed upon, but no one, including the meeting organizers, will speak up and say, "Hey, there's not a whole lot that's happened since the last meeting, so why don't people who need to do so just touch bases informally and we'll re-convene all together next week." Most people know how to send email, and, better yet, why not go drop by your colleague's office? It's right next door or maybe just two doors over.

But that gets me to the other issue. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are some tensions brewing just under the surface between the old program, Survival in Captivity, and the new program, Expanding Habitats.

There's a lot of passive aggressiveness on the part of the Survival in Captivity people, and, while I understand the reasons for it, it's really getting tiresome. After a certain amount of time, you just move on from these things, but that doesn't seem to be happening. They resent having to expend effort and time on Flaming Kangaroo Gas, which is an Expanding Habitats event upcoming in the next few weeks. They resent having to work with staff hired exclusively for Expanding Habitats, like me. And they seem to resent the general philosophical directive behind the misison and goals of Expanding Habitats. And this is all despite the fact that Survival in Captivity still exists as a program, and nobody lost their job when Expanding Habitats took over. And, really, the only thing that's changed is the leadership and a push towards creating public dialogue over policy rather than pointing fingers.

Some people, it turns out, aren't very good at dialogue, even among their coworkers, it seems.

Possibly the thing that irritates me the most about these Flaming Kangaroo Gas meetings is Senior Pink Elephant's attitude and immature behavior. SPE is one of the people most loyal to Survival in Captivity. Describing SPE's tone and body language and behavior as "resentful" understates the bitterness SPE expresses. While everybody is frustrated by these stupid meetings, most behave like grown-ups. SPE, on the contrary, will go to meetings and PASS NOTES to the other pink elephants, snicker, and nod and smile at them, as if we were all in high school. The other pink elephants just look uncomfortable and, when the meeting finally ends, carefully pick up those little slips of paper -- no doubt filled with snide comments -- so as to make sure nobody else sees them. SPE never does anything really big, but these little things undermine collegiality, which is maybe SPE's subconscious goal. Like, for example, at today's meeting, somebody in Expanding Habitats said they didn't get the email about Flaming Kangaroo Gass Solids that was sent around this morning. Instead of simply forwarding the email from the iPad SPE also obsessively plays with at meetings, which would be the civil, grown-up thing to do, SPE says dismissively, "Yes, you did. It was sent to everybody. Whatever. It's not important that you see it anyway." Somebody else did forward the message, but that kind of bitchiness lingers. Did I mention how tiresome this all is? It's toxic. It's spawned this whole bitchy post, which I needed to get out of my system before getting back to Flaming Kangaroo Gas tasks (that I could have done earlier but was at the meeting).

Did I mention also that SPE especially hates me because 1) I was hired specifically to work on Expanding Habitats, 2) I am not a pink elephant, and 3) I used to work at Think Tank, which makes me, ipso facto, either evil or crazy.

So, even if I'm being a little paranoid, I feel like a fair amount of SPE's passive aggressiveness is directed at me, especially since the other two main Expanding Habitats people -- the people, also, that hired me, know my background, and respect what I bring -- are in Other City Office. In other words, my allies only participate in meetings via video or phone conference, and I really don't think they pick up on this pepto bismal colored Pink Elephant shit, even though it may almost all (except for the Think Tank part) be actually directed equally at them.

I really do try hard to be civil to SPE, because, quite frankly, I would prefer to work in a civil environment. I'm willing to let stuff slide. I go out of my way to say hello and otherwise be polite. But, really? For how long? Even in academe, as petty as people could sometimes be, I never had to put up with this crap. Maybe I was lucky, but the closest workplace situation for me was a retail job I had in college. One of my coworkers there resented me because she thought I "stole" her customers. In fact, she ignored "her" customers, but I talked to them so neither of us would get yelled at by the manager. And I was just better at selling because I was actually NICE and POLITE and CIVIL and FRIENDLY and DECENT to the customers. When I got promoted from sales associate to sales supervisor, my coworker got into all this stupid passive aggressive stuff, like leaving messes for me to clean up or actively pissing customers off by being overtly rude to them because she knew I would get blamed, since I was "supervising." Fortunately for both of us, she quit after not too long.

Maybe SPE will just up and quit, too. SPE getting fired would be even better. Are there some job gods out there who would accept the burning of a pink elephant effigy?

You know what's ironic? The environment and people at Think Tank/New Think Tank, as I've blogged before, despite our differences, were entirely civil, polite, decent people to work with. There was nothing like this situation with any of them. Ever. And you know what else? It's that kind of civility that allows people to forge valuable and loyal relationships in this small little world where Who You Know Matters More Than What You Know. You want there to be people for whom you will go out of your way and who will go out of their way for you. You never know when that sort of thing will pay off, but it's worthwhile to work at because, in the long run, it's as important as showing up and doing all the other stuff you're supposed to.

Do you know what else is ironic? At Think Tank/New Think Tank -- because it was a small place, an open office, and a collegial environment in which people could just walk over and talk to each other about Whatever It Is that needed to get done -- there were no goddammedmotherfuckingmindblowinglyborrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring meetings EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  1. Meetings have three legitimate purposes:

    (1) Convey information that can't be efficiently conveyed via e-mail.

    (2) Have a discussion and make a collective decision after--and in light of--that discussion.

    (3) Provide a deadline and incentive for completing a task: "I want X task complete by our meeting next Friday, and for the outcome of that completed task to be presented at the meeting."

    I refuse to attend meetings that aren't for one of those purposes.

  2. So sorry that that co-worker is being a giant twat!

    It is really draining to have a work situation like that. My job is so, so solitary (except for conference times) that I envy your having co- workers...but it can be a double edged sword.

  3. There are both good people around the office and meetings with legitimate purposes. I wish I had the option of not attending meetings that don't have legitimate purposes, but I don't have that kind of status yet. The people situation is just weird. I didn't realize until I started what the deal was with Expanding Habitats and Survival in Captivity. All I knew was that I was joining Expanding Habitats. In retrospect, there were a lot of questions at the interviews about my ability to get along with people and deal with difficult situations. Those questions are beginning to make sense in new ways.

  4. I totally agree with physioprof's reasons about the value of meetings since otherwise they're pointless. But I am sorry to hear that your co-worker is a giant twat. I'm like Currer Bell in that my job is solitary...and so having co-workers would be nice.

  5. Fortunately, it's just one coworker that's really a problem. Ze was mercifully out of the office today, and what a difference it makes!

    It is true that some meetings do have purposes, but does it say something about the culture around here that we are having a meeting -- get this! -- about how to run effective meetings? This meeting will be an all-day meeting run by an external training service that does nothing but run these "professional development" meetings about how to run effective meetings!

    Just thinking about it makes my head spin. Plus, while we do have some purposeful meetings here, these ones on the Flaming Kangaroo Gas event were put on the calendar hastily without much thought as to what the purpose of holding them so close together might be except general anxiety about having to get this event together so quickly.