The staff meeting is the modern equivalent of a medieval torture chamber: your body locked down in a muscle-wasting, bone-aching chair; your brain washed over by a tyrannical boss barking orders and instructions; your senses dulled by the repetitive shuffling of papers and clearing of throats; and your dignity compromised by the torch-wielding mob of co-workers whose schadenfreude serves to ease their own suffering. (The only thing more insufferable is the committee meeting, uniting irritated employees and oblivious volunteers in mutual after-hours time-wasting.)
Perhaps the most odious aspect of meetings is the groupthink. On juries, during wartime, in politics, groupthink inevitably proves disastrous. In the workplace, it manifests as the aggressive jerk who speaks loudly and frequently; the “big immovable stone” who delegates everything to somebody else; and the cheerful moron whose shiny-happy-fuzzy ideas are the most eagerly embraced, while the best ideas are rejected promptly, or never uttered at all. The process is like having everybody add their urine to a half-empty bottle of champagne, rendering the final mix undrinkable.
Admittedly, most meetings only serve three functions: 1. To spawn more meetings, in the same way that infectious bacteria reproduce ad nauseum until the petri dish implodes. 2. To deflect criticism for one’s personal and/or professional failings by attacking weaker and less attractive colleagues 3. To create more grunt work for employees lowest on the totem pole, an endemic form of workplace bullying. (How many long-suffering secretaries have been given the humiliating task of cold-calling potential new clients? How many idealistic interns have been made to stand on grimy street corners in miserable weather, handing out marketing fliers to disinterested passersby?)
Companies continue to grandstand on the supposed benefits of collaborative processes, while ignoring the unseemly ramifications (i.e. bandwagoning, scapegoating, stereotyping, deindividuation). Just as multitasking remains a much-hyped skill in spite of overwhelming evidence that it reduces productivity, so too the ideal of groupthink lingers in mainstream corporate environments, like the stench of the office refrigerator after the Christmas break, or the desk drawer of a vengeful pink-slipped employee on his last day.
Groupthink, of course, contaminates us outside of the 9-5 grind. It causes us to fritter away our wages on translucent Lululemon pants, so we can then waste more salary on Bikram yoga classes, breathing in the germs and spores perspired by others, and once sick, infecting our colleagues in adjacent cubicles. In the lives of students, groupthink can be blamed for the inexplicable popularity of twerking, the cinnamon challenge and butt chugging. As for adults, groupthink inspired the subprime mortgage “speculative fever” that triggered a twenty-first century Great Depression. (The ultimate consequence of this “race to the bottom” will not merely be the demise of corporations and cultural institutions, but global economic and ecological ruin.)
Ironically most of the antidotes offered for groupthink are rebranded versions of groupthink. Insipid human resources buzzwords like thought diversity, leadership cultivation and attentive decision-making, are ineffectual attempts to circumvent millions of years of evolved collective delusion. Meaningless corporate-speak blinds and binds us to our condition as sheeple – unable to resist, like moths to a blowtorch, compulsive group behavior.
If you are fortunate enough to occupy a leadership position, however, there are simple ways to rout groupthink: Demolish open-concept offices, embracing the privacy and efficiency of doors and walls. Hire more introverts and leave them alone. Enforce zero-tolerance for workplace bullying. Limit meetings to three people and twenty minutes maximum. Implement “meeting-free Mondays” and “work-from-home Wednesdays”. If you are unfortunate enough to occupy a follower position, though, your best strategy is to shut your mouth and find the schadenfreude in the spiral of stupidity.