Ahhh…Hamilton. Who doesn’t want to hear an American History textbook brought to life over and over and over again for 5 years? (Just kidding, Hamilton fans, no hate mail please. Daveed Diggs is the best!)
This musical is groundbreaking, not only for the way that it reinvigorated Broadway by providing space for a completely new musical style, but for the fact that it has an entire song dedicated to the pain of being excluded from a meeting. In a production that spans a revolution, the founding of a nation, sibling rivalry, adultery, the loss of a child, and (spoiler alert?) the death of the main character in a duel, how is it possible that one of the most emotionally heartfelt songs is about not receiving a meeting invite? At Miter, we call this Meeting FOMO - the fear of missing out on the meeting.
One of the most astonishing things about meetings is that they are simultaneously so boring and so seductive. While there may be a lot of inherent drama in a high-level negotiation about the future location of a nation’s capital, most meetings simply do not offer up such compelling content. They have titles such as “Weekly Status Meeting” or “Q3 IT Budget Recap” and they often fail to fully deliver even on those limited promises. Yet, they manage to attract five, ten, even 20 attendees on a regular basis.
How do these milquetoast topics lure in so many attendees like moths to the flame? Everyone hates these meetings. You would think they'd naturally shrink over time to only the most essential of participants. There are practical considerations as well - conference rooms take up lots of space and employee time is very expensive (especially as the list balloons). Where is the budget-minded pushback?
To answer that question, imagine yourself sitting at that Biweekly Crossfunctional Status Update Meeting (to choose a random 20-person gathering). You’ve strategically positioned yourself towards the back of the room so you don’t accidentally get called on while you try to peck away at your email and Slack backlog. It’s minute 73 and it’s getting really stuffy. Why do you have to be here? You would do anything to get out of having to attend this meeting.
Except… flash forward a week. You’re desperately trying to tackle your email and Slack backlog during a different meeting when you catch a “Canceled Event: Biweekly Crossfunctional Status Update Meeting” notification popping up. You Slack your boss:
You: Wait, are we canceling the biweekly update meeting?
Boss: No… Jose has just asked us to streamline it a bit
You: Uh… streamline???
Boss: There’s a lot of folks who don’t need to be there and Jose is losing the big conference room to the Exec strat meeting
You: How am I supposed to find out what Sales & Marketing are up to? They never answer my slacks
Boss: I mean, it’ll be in the update email
You: You know they never actually send that out
You: Is Pat still going?
Boss: Pat gives the team update.
You: Yeah, as a “stretch” goal.
Boss: I still have to go if that makes you feel any better....
You: Am I getting fired?
Meeting FOMO is real because an invite to even the dullest meeting has meaning: there are political benefits to being on the list, and for having it show up on your calendar. More face time with higher-ups or even just the appearance of being busy (often read as being important) can directly improve one’s status. Being added to (or removed from) a meeting can even signal major changes within the organization.
There are informational advantages to (half-)listening in as well. Most meetings are poorly documented, with key decisions or follow-ups being captured only in individual’s notes, or worse, their heads. If you’re not in the room, you really are out of the loop because no one is going to remember to fill you in.
At the end of the day, we all want to be included, especially when we need to stay ahead of our peers. We experience the emotional pain of being in the room as a necessary price to pay for our status while any logical attempts to free us from our bondage on budget grounds is interpreted by our limbic system as a direct attack.
Meeting FOMO is real because the benefits of even the worst meetings are real. Meetings will never shrink until we find alternate paths to providing those benefits to the marginal attendees. At Miter, our goal is to make meetings safe to not attend… unless your presence is really necessary.
What about your meetings? Are there other reasons for attending terrible meetings that we've missed? We’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line.