I will be the first to admit there may have been some truth to this. Over the previous several months we had chartered one team after another to attack a wide swath of initiatives, projects, strategies, and urgent priorities. However, in our enthusiasm for Getting Things Done, it appeared that we may have buried many of our most valuable managers in a sea of projects that may never actually get completed in our lifetime.
How Can We Be So Busy and Produce So Few Results?
To prepare for our senior executive meeting about meetings, we asked one of the junior spreadsheet wonks from the finance department to cough up a matrix listing every team project and initiative throughout the organization, and also a roster of who is on each of these teams.
“This shall be good,” we said to ourselves. “Yes. Let us take stock of our meeting situation.”
The Board room lights were dimmed, and the Meeting Inventory Spreadsheet was projected up on to the screen, larger than life. Across the top was every major team initiative that we knew of, and then down the vertical side were the names of the people on the various teams. Each horizontal row had big X’s to mark where that person was assigned to a team.
It turns out that corporate life is just like church: we discovered that 20% of the managers were participating in 80% of the teams. These were the same managers who were yammering about having too many meetings. Looking at that spreadsheet, you also couldn’t help but notice there were a whole bunch of other names with no check marks next to them, no matter how far you went out in the screen view. Those were the people that weren’t doing anything at all, other than their regular jobs. Slackers.
No wonder these managers were complaining. We had given all the work to the few that we all thought were the most capable.
“Hmm,” We said, upon this realization, carefully examining the chart.
Then one very bright vice president spoke up:
“This explains why we seem to be so busy all the time without getting any results.” The rest of us nodded our heads in hearty agreement.
“Makes sense,” chimed in the VP of Sales.
“Yup. These guys are drowning,” said the CFO.
“This time we have really gone too far,” said another executive, as we hung our heads in shame.
Well, that part’s not true. For goodness sake, no executive worth his salt is going to apologize for going a little overboard pursuing worthy projects! All we were trying to do was to maintain an aggressive position to keep our heads above water for another fiscal year. It just happened to get a bit lopsided.
This situation reminded me of something a wise friend of mine said recently:
“Don’t confuse activity with action.”
In other words, just because someone looks really, really busy, it does not necessarily mean that they are being very productive. It could, in fact, mean the opposite – you get so busy working on so many different things, that nothing important is getting accomplished at all.
Purge and Prioritize to Focus Energy on the Greatest Potential
The bright and accomplished executives who were gathered that day in the Board room quickly went to work on a new project: developing a “Meeting Optimization Program,” where we began to prioritize and streamline all of the project teams. We eliminated some, beefed up others, put some on a waiting list, and then shuffled the deck of players so that we were utilizing more of our people, while ultimately limiting each person to three teams, max.
That’s better. Now we can really get something accomplished. I can’t tell you the relief and clarity we felt after purging through that list.
God is Not a God of Confusion
The Apostle Paul made and important but obvious point about best practices for organizational behavior when he was addressing the Corinthian church. By all accounts, this was a church that had gone off the deep end of meeting chaos, with people scrambling every which-way trying to get busy with Jesus. Plus they all wanted to be the loudest voice in their church meetings. Paul attempted to break through all the madness with this simple message in I Corinthians 14:33:
“God is not a God of confusion, but a God of peace.”
It’s difficult to feel spiritually effective in your organization when you are on meeting overdrive, wondering if you are channeling the best and highest use of your time and energy. As executives, of course, we are just interested in getting as much done as we can with as few resources as possible. So we dump. But sometimes it’s necessary to step back and reevaluate, to get focused, to distinguish the activity from the action.
Paul knew that clarity brings order, and that order brings peace. Peace brings spiritual clarity. And we could all use more of this at work.