My Mother Doesn’t Want Me to Be on a Committee
A committee was formed to make a plan to increase the company’s market-share.
The chart-maker (there’s always a chart-maker) starts the meeting. “On this chart, you can see the entire market in yellow and our share in green. It shows how much potential business there is for us.”
Next, she puts up a graph with numbers. “This shows you graphically how increased sales equals increased revenue.” The last chart graphs how more salespeople produce more sales.
One member of the committee has been zoned out since the first graph. Then, someone suddenly drops a pen, and she is jolted back to the committee room just as the last chart is being explained. She looks up, focuses, and says, “That’s it then. We need to hire. Are we adjourned?”
The chart-maker gives her a dirty look, and nay-sayer (there’s always one of those too) says, “If we were going to expand, we needed to start this a year ago.”
The list-maker goes to the whiteboard and picks up a marker. “We need a create a profile so we know what we’re looking for. Let’s list the skills and qualifications a candidate needs to be successful.”
That discussion is almost immediately sidetracked into an argument about what’s important and what’s not, criticisms of people hired in the past, and complaints that profiles don’t work.
During the discussion, the same member who had zoned out before was back on another planet.
After three hours, the committee adjourns, having defined one action step – hire salespeople.
I went to my first meeting when I was in the third grade – I didn’t like it.
It was a Brownie meeting. I went with my best friend, Sue, a committed Brownie. The girls wore brown dresses and hats, they drank orange Kool-Aid, and ate stale cookies. Then they spent half an hour arguing about which projects they would do, build birdhouses out of Popsicle sticks or make flower-pictures out of pipe cleaners. No consensus was reached.
I didn’t want to make popsicle pipe cleaners. I wanted to go home.
The next week, I tried to run home, but Sue caught me and asked me to go again. I was on the spot and had to think fast, but I came up with the perfect answer:
My mother doesn’t want me to be a Brownie.”
When I grew up, I learned most meetings are pretty much like the Brownie meeting, and just as there are people who want to be Brownies (I admit I didn’t give the organization a fair chance), there are people who want to be on committees. Who are they? How could I spot them, and stay out of meetings with them? I’ve asked myself that question, and noticed at least one indicator. If the person suggests forming a committee or asks to be on one, you’ve probably spotted the person who will talk a topic to death. Then, just as the meeting is wrapping up, this is the person who will ask an already-answered question, then insist the answer needs clarification.
Mr. McKinsey was one of those. He was a math teacher in the school where I taught after college. He found his stage at teachers’ meetings, the educational system’s equivalent to the committee meeting, and possibly a one reason I left for a career in business.
The main topic of one excruciatingly long meeting was the teachers’ lounge. This was the guidance counselor’s pet agenda item. She ranted that some of us (You know who you are!), didn’t have, “the common courtesy to refill the paper in the copy machine, and you leave the teacher’s lounge a mess – so inconsiderate of others!”
That was Mr. McKinsey’s opening, and he was all over it. “I make the motion we set up a committee to draft a rule book for the copy machine and teachers’ lounge etiquette.”
I pictured him spontaneously combusting, and smiled, but quickly checked the smile, lest they think I’m volunteering.
“I don’t belong in teachers’ meetings,” I thought. “It will be different in business.”
I was wrong. It’s a rare committee meeting that gets anything done. The rest wastes time and drains morale. But here’s a solution for you. If you want to avoid having your time wasted and your mind numbed in meetings, just do what I do. Say,
My mother doesn’t want me to be on a committee.”