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37signals' Idealogy Meets Online Training (Part 1): Meetings are Toxic

— by Lee Graham

[ Editor’s note: Simply put, we at Mindflash are big fans the 37signals’ ethos . Usefulness, simplicity, and ease-of-use are principles we strive for. We also think that these principles apply to online training, whether you are building a full blown LMS or developing a simple eLearning courses. In this blog series, guest blogger Lee Graham will explore a few of 37signals’ concepts and discuss how we can apply them to the online training realm. This is Part 1 of the series.]

Part 1: Meetings are toxic

“The worst interruptions of all are meetings.”

Why are meetings toxic? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Meetings tend to drift off subject
  • Meetings usually have vague agendas
  • Meetings interrupt productivity
  • People call meeting because they like to hear themselves speak
  • One meeting tends to spawn another meeting, which tends to lead into several other follow-up meetings.

If you’ve ever called a meeting to discuss the status of Course X or met with your team of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) you can probably relate to a few of the issues mentioned above. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame. They want to deliver the PowerPoint they spent way too much time designing. Most of all, they want to show their peers how smart and productive they are. The real problem with meetings is people!

Meeting Detox

Let’s face it, as an eLearning professional, we have a strong disposition towards meetings. Meetings to discuss next week’s agenda, production schedules, storyboard development, etc. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself…

  • …why are we having this meeting?
  • …what do we intend on solving?
  • …is this goal something we could accomplish without tying up everyone’s time in a meeting?

Many times, you’ll find that a meeting is an inefficient way to accomplish your goal.

Now, there are definitely times when you really do need a meeting. So how do you ensure a concise, productive meeting? The gents from 37signals offer a number a suggestions for making meetings more productive and here are a few of my favorites:

  • “Set a timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period.”
  • “Invite as few people as possible.”
  • “Always have a clear agenda.”
  • For the rest, check out 37signals’ books Rework

The Net Net

Taking this approach to meetings means you’re probably going to ruffle some feathers. If you’re wondering, here are some pretty good reasons to go into meeting detox:

  • It keeps people from getting distracted
  • It helps keep focus on the real issues that need to be resolved and can help keep frustrations to a minimum
  • Finally, perhaps this can prevent them from getting annoyed because they have to attend your meeting, while they know they could be much more productive working on their projects.

Finally, toxic meetings probably cost your company a great deal of money every year. Here’s a conservative estimate: a weekly meeting with your graphics designer ($35 per hour), two developers ($50 per hour), instructional designer ($55 per hour), and your project manager ($65 per hour) costs the company over $13,200 per year.
Bottom line, if you can avoid toxic meetings, it can really save your company money in the long term.


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