Making a decision is more important than being right

April 10, 2014

Sometimes I think there’s too much democracy in the workplace, and that what we need is benevolent dictatorship. There’s too much taking account of how everyone feels about an issue, too much talking around the issues, too little action. In short, too many meetings.

As Jason Fried and David Hansson put it in Rework, “meetings are toxic” - it’s far too easy to waste a lot of time bike shedding.

They’re expensive, too. The number of times I’ve looked around the room in a meeting and wondered what the combined hourly rate for the people sitting there listening to the incoherent ramblings of someone who’s entirely missed the point.

I can see why the people who built Basecamp would be anti-meeting, and I think I’m inclined to agree with them. I’ve lost count I’ve been in a meeting where people have been asking what the current status of an issue is, and I’ve had to fight the urge to shout “just @*!&^£& look at JIRA”.

If only there was a participation prerequisite for meetings, basically a covenant that before having a meeting you would meet the criteria:

  • I have read the relevant info that will be discussed
  • I have made my best efforts to understand it
  • My input will be relevant and concise

A lot of meetings feel like relics of a pre-digital age.

Maybe scheduling software should include a message before arranging a meeting, a bit like people used to have on their email signature asking you to think before printing - “are you sure this meeting is really necessary?”

The trouble is that meetings are about governance. They’re about people covering their arses, and making sure that nobody has the opportunity to say they weren’t consulted.

Which means that you have to listen to those ill-informed ramblings, unless you have set up a responsiblity assignment matrix to sideline that person.

The other problem with meetings is that they’re about sharing responsibility. Which is an admirable aim, but too often devolves into people trying to shirk responsibility. Too often, nobody is prepared to step up and take ownership of a decision. There’s a desire to gain a mandate for action, a need for consensus. Which brings me back to benevolent dictatorship, and deciding “what to ignore, so you can stop procrastinating and get stuff done.”

I’m often guilty of steaming straight into building things without considering all the consequences, but in general I prefer the sense of progress towards a goal, rather than the paralysing inertia of indecision. Unless the decision is really, really bad, I’d rather be getting on with it.