When you have to meet to have a meeting about meetings

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings’.” — Dave Barry

Here’s a fun game for your next party. Hand out cards with the above quote written on them but with a blank where the word “meetings” is. Ask your guests to fill in the blank with a word of their own choosing. Hilarity will ensue. I can already think of lots of fun words to insert in the blank — TV, cell phones, bleeding heart liberals, right-wing conservatives, the Yankees, processed food or the demise of the fountain pen as the prevalent means of communication among humans.

But, having just endured a month of meeting-intensive weeks in my day job, I’m inclined to go with Barry and vote for meetings as the root of all evil. What put me over the top in my disdain for meetings was my receipt last week (via email, of course) of a document called a Standing Meetings Matrix, which laid out in an allegedly helpful matrix all of the meetings that occur on a regular basis in my office. The matrix, which looks like a cross between a Venn diagram on steroids and the organizational chart for Al Qaeda, includes about a dozen meetings, which isn’t bad for an office of less than 20 people.

To top things off, because some of us (OK, it was just me) had casually mentioned that all of our meetings were not functioning at optimal performance levels (OK, I actually said our meetings suck), the matrix came with a cover note inviting (ordering) us all to attend a meeting about meetings in which we would all learn “efficient meeting practices and protocols” from a communications consultant that we had engaged to enhance communication within our office.

My own notions of effective office communications are admittedly quaint and old-fashioned. If I have a question or need information from one of my co-workers, I walk the 50 feet or so down the hall to his or her office and ask my question. If that person is not in his or her office, I leave a simple note on their chair after first taking a sample of whatever food item they may carelessly have left on their desk. I don’t always take a food item, of course. Sometimes I steal a pen or grab a handful of paper clips. If I have a question or need information from more than one co-worker, I make two stops on my walk down the hall. Not only does this low-tech technique seem to work pretty well, but it serves as a significant deterrent to people leaving food and office supplies in plain sight on their desks or hidden in the bottom of their desk drawers for that matter, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Having now learned about effective office communication from a pro, I see that my simplistic and naïve approach to the subject fails miserably to take advantage of the wonders of modern technology. What I should be doing according to our consultant is either emailing my questions to my colleagues or using our company’s computerized meeting scheduler to schedule a meeting with him or her or them in the conference room, which I can conveniently reserve through a different computerized scheduling program, a process that, assuming there are no glitches in the system, (an assumption that is not supported by available data or experience by the way), takes only slightly longer than it would have taken me to walk down the hall, get the answer to my question and return to my office with part of a brownie or a handful of chips.

I’m rightfully accused of being one of those people who is always looking for new ways to be an anachronism, but I have yet to be convinced that our new computerized scheduling program is demonstrably better than the system I have been using for the last quarter century, which consists of a Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil and a spiral bound month-at-a-glance paper calendar. Robert Frost, who I suspect didn’t like meetings either, once nearly said that the brain is a marvelous organ; it starts working the moment you wake up in the morning and doesn’t stop until you walk into your first meeting. Or sooner, if you are a consultant.

Tom Tyner writes a monthly humor column for this newspaper. This one is from his “Classics File.”