In a great TED talk, Jason Fried explains why work does not seem to get done at work.

In short, the story goes like this: When you ask people where they go when they really need to get something done, you’ll get answers like “the kitchen”, “a plane”, “the coffee shop”, “the car” and so on. Almost never will people say: “the office” (unless they qualify this answer with “early morning, late at night, on the weekend”, ie, when nobody else is there). Why is that? Because work, especially knowledge work, needs long stretches of uninterrupted time in order to be truly productive. Yet the typical office day is characterised by countless interruptions, in Jason Fried’s words: “your day is shredded to bits”. He also knows why that is: because of the “M&Ms” – managers and meetings. Both tend to interrupt you and force you to spend unproductive time.

Is Jason Fried right? He is, as far as describing modern day office life is concerned. He’s also right with his diagnosis which identifies the “M&M”s as the chief culprits. Yet his “solutions” (introduce “no talk Thursdays”, prefer e-mail over face-to-face communications, cancel the next meeting) address symptoms, not root causes.

Many managers indeed are seen by their employees as mere interruptions, not adding value at all. And often times that’s true. Why? Because far too many managers have no idea what a manager, let alone a really good manager, should be doing. So out of their own insecurity they they keep calling meetings to figure out „what’s going on“, micro-manage people or worst of all, actually do their work. And that produces interruptions. To solve that problem, we need better managers – prohibiting them to speak to us one Thursday a month or even a week won’t do the trick.

Same with meetings: we need fewer and better meetings, not people who boycott meetings. Meetings with a clear objective, where only those people who really need to be there are there, where people are prepared, where decisions are taken, problems solved and clear next steps identified. These are productive meetings, where actual work gets done.

In healthy organisations, meetings are fewer and very productive in nature. In healthy organisations, managers tend to practice healthy management which supports their employees rather than interrupts them. In short, in healthy organisations, “M&M”s are not part of the problem, but part of the solution.


Nazrul Hoque – 05 August 2018