Know Your Enemy: How to Spot a Nearly Meeting


Nearly meeting is a colossal waste of time and resources, and – most destructively – it turns us off the real potential of really meeting.

To avoid nearly meeting and make an escape or a change when you find yourself in one, you first have to learn how to spot them.

In Will There Be Donuts?, David Pearl describes the types of nearly meetings that are going on in businesses an organizations around the world. If you find yourself experiencing any of these, then you know you’re experiencing a nearly meeting:

  • Wagner Meetings: “Wagner meetings, like Wagner operas, are meant to be long. The longer they are, the more important they seem. Which is why the go on and on. Think Italian roadworks. No ‘work’ is actually happening. They are a way of avoiding work.”
  • Mushroom Meetings: “They propagate in your diary like fungus on a rotten tree stump. Is it an airborne spore? Is it a virus? Who knows? But turn away and there they are when you open your Outlook in the morning.”
  • Stonehenge Meetings: “Like the stones on the Salisbury Plain, they have been there since the dawn of time but no one really knows what they are for.”
  • Party Political un-Broadcast Meetings: “These meetings are like those short ‘informercials’ that are inserted into the TV schedule during election periods. With three important differences. These meetings are all about politics but don’t warn you from the start. They aren’t short. And very often the politics is not broadcast. On the contrary, it’s never mentioned. But everything in the meeting is actually about political leverage and personal power-play.”
  • DMZ Meetings: “The Decision-Missing Zone. In a DMZ, you’ll find yourself wondering – didn’t we decide this last week, and why are we talking about it again? Or why is it that we decide things in meetings and then un-decide them outside the meetings?”
  • Strange World: “Welcome to the disorienting and very common Lilliput Syndrome that kicks in when meetings just aren’t relevant to you. It’s full of little people speaking a weird language. This world has nothing to do with you, but when you try to leave you discover you are tied down and unable to move. You’re a prisoner! This syndrome is equally common when the meeting isn’t relevant to you and when you are not relevant to it.”
  • GabFest: “They don’t see you. And you cannot get your voice heard either. Partly because theres no gap in the conversation. These are particularly popular in organizations which confuse airtime with importance and complexity with cleverness.”

So any of those seem familiar? If so, then you’ve got a great opportunity on your hands! If you can help steer your organization (or even just your team or department) away from nearly meeting and towards really meeting, then you can be the catalyst for amazing change.

If you can help steer your organization (or even just your team or department) away from nearly meeting and towards really meeting, then you can be the catalyst for amazing change.

Inspired by Pearl’s description of meetings, I jotted down some that I’ve encountered during my career:

  • Pagoda: A meeting characterized by the inclusion of multiple tiers of the organization. These meetings are inefficient because, invariably, folks on the lower rungs don’t feel like they can be completely open and honest; or they bite their tongues because they think they should let their manager, or their manager’s manager, speak for the team. Pagoda meetings can also turn into political power-plays, when the senior members feel like they have to be strong in front of their people. Outside of team/departmental sync-ups, I find Pagoda meetings to be worthless and I avoid them like the plague. I’ll look at an invite list and, if I see someone from my team is invited, or my manager, then we’ll sync up before and after and only one of us will attend.
  • Party: A meeting that has more than eight (this is the number I picked; feel free to pick your own) attendees. Once you cross this threshold, nothing’s getting done…or at least it’s not getting done efficiently. There’s just no way that the content is relevant for that many people, or that the decisions need input from that many people. Much better to split up into separate conversations…like maybe a handful of one-on-one information gathering conversations, and then a single decision meeting with a subset of people.
  • Drunkard’s Walk / Improv: A meeting that just sort’ve veers this way and that, without an agenda or plan.
  • Chat: A meeting at which no actions are taken down…it’s just a chat that doesn’t really result in any sort of action or outcome. If the sole point of the meeting is to share information, then I guess that’s OK…but still, it’s not unreasonable to think that the sharing of information would result in some sort of action.
  • Overtime: A meeting that drags on past the allotted time. There’s little that bothers me more.
  • False Start: (OK, this one might bother me more) A meeting that never seems to really get started. First, you wait for 5, 8, 10 minutes as people wander in. Then you’re fighting with the remote conferencing equipment. Maybe you started the meeting on time, but then when someone joins 10 minutes late you have to quickly get them up-to-speed. A huge waste of time.
  • Dissertation: (very closely related to Pearl’s GabFest) A meeting where one person does at least 80% of the talking. It’s basically a speech, with some room at the end for a couple of questions…but the Q and A part is typically prompted with something leading, like, “Does everyone agree?” Yep, we all agree that this meeting sucked.

What about you – what types of nearly meetings do you experience?


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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3 comments on “Know Your Enemy: How to Spot a Nearly Meeting
  1. […] Pearl starts by explaining the real tragedy of nearly meeting: all those missed opportunities to change the world, that, instead, ended up wasting time and even being counter-productive…making us believe that sucking is just an unavoidable characteristic of meetings, in general. He arms us in our quest to revitalize meetings with some tips on how to spot a ‘nearly’ meeting. […]

  2. […] I’ve spent a couple of posts complaining about meetings. With those little rants out of the way, let’s turn our attention to solving the problem. A […]

  3. ndenoble says:

    Another form of nearly meeting…the old throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks

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