Meetings are not only a practicable alternative to work, as the famous Internet meme claims. They belong to the standard kit of tools you need or are forced to use the moment you enter an organisation composed of more than three people. In the case of the European parliament, we’ve reached the stage of a meetings factory. Our institution excels at creating, organising, and concocting meetings. In the spirit of sharing with you, dear readers, a glance at our backstage life, please enter for a minute or two my world of meetings.
In our Unit, we have two mandatory meetings a week. No more. They are the backbones of our publishing workflow. Without those two, there would be nothing good published on our Headlines every day. And if you think there is nothing good already, well, it would be a lot worse. On Wednesday, we gather the synopsis writers of the week to come. They all cover one of the ten topics that organise our left menu on Headlines – which make sure we cover all the range of newsworthy subjects where the European Parliament has done, will do or does something about.
From their ideas, angles, suggestions, we draft a weekly schedule which draws the publishing program for the next week. This meeting usually lasts one hour. It belongs to my (very) short list of favourite meetings, because it’s concrete, often fun and short. (Read Hannariikka’s own view of one of those meetings).
The second weekly team meeting goes on Friday morning – it’s our famous stand-up meeting, based on a ritual from the daily French newspaper “Le Monde” where all editors stand-up during their morning “conférence de rédaction”. They stand up so the meeting doesn’t last, and so do we for the same reason. This meeting is on my top list since it’s very short (30 minutes is a record), almost always funny and very informal. We review the approved schedule for the week to come, we comment the finishing week and we exchange information. And if you really want to know, more and more editors are sitting down during this meeting. I know: this upsets me too.
But wait… How comes the schedule, which was a draft on Wednesday is now approved on Friday? Because there was a meeting on Thursday, called “CED” which stands for Editorial Committee (in French). This is an inter-Units meeting. We’re talking of a different league here, with the Heads of Units’ Secret Society (Steve belongs to it), the cavalry of editorial co-ordinators (that’s where I serve) and the infantry of observers, commentators, delegates attending to fish for the information at the source. Even though it is an essential meeting (because that’s where all the different schedules from the different editorial teams are approved so that we can start to work) , even though it’s often funny, it’s not on my top-list. I only like the part when I get to speak, just like everyone else, which turns it into a kind of public self-listening championship. So I am not fond of it, except when I am speaking, of course.
This editorial committee has a sequel, every Monday morning, titled “CED-R” (Restricted Editorial Committee). That’s right: when we don’t organise a meeting, we produce acronyms. This one is OK: short, concrete, practical. It allows adjusting the schedules with the last development in the Parliament, in the EU and in the world – in this precise order.
As an editorial co-ordinator for the Headlines, those are the four meetings at the core of my job. So far, so good. But of course, there is more than that to co-ordinate.
You may have heard about the coming European Elections, for which we are plotting secret projects in our most hidden lair in order to brainwash as many as EU citizen we can so they go and vote. They can vote whatever they want, but they have to vote. Guess what: ruling our fellow Europeans minds requires… meetings. That’s a downsizing of all those conquering-the-world-invasion-plans they never show you in contemporary James Bond movies. So, add a weekly meeting every Thursday with our communication agency. They call this one a “Jour Fixe”, even if they are German, and it’s usually a painful one because it’s either by phone or by visio-conference. Being French, I prefer to be in the same room as the people I am shouting at. I am afraid that in those meetings, I sound harsher that I really am. I’d prefer to use all the resources of my body-language my Pilates trainer can’t stop bragging about, but, c’est la vie.
Up to six meetings a week. Still counting.
Of course, since our team deals only with the online communication aspects of the campaign, there is a need for another weekly meeting with others co-ordinators to exchange on our latest progress in adding secret ingredients in all European water-pipes so people will go and vote.
Up to six meetings a week. Still counting.
We have project meetings, informal meetings, monthly Unit meetings, monthly Directorate meetings, monthly General Directorate meetings, bi-monthly Election task-force meetings. I counted: between 19 January and 4 March of this year, I’ve been in 42 meetings. In 34 days.
The best is: I am lucky because I’m not Steve. There are some weeks where he disappears for a week. It’s not many meetings anymore, it’s one week in conference-room land, where the sun is replaced by energy saving lights. The articulated Boss-of-the-pop we are used to comes back speaking in Powerpoint (c) volapuk, asking for next point of the agenda and how do our “any other businesses” look like.
I can stand two meetings a day. Add one, and I start to grumble. Another one and I am so nervous I could apply at the Commission. Five? You don’t want that to happen to your family, do you? Six? You were too young to die. Seven (yes, it happened) – I go-go to Tobago-go. Nowdays, whenever someone suggests, about anything, that we should have a meeting to talk about whatever-it-can-be, I am already running up the stairs, nailing my doors, crouching in my closet, killing a kitten.
Meetings are reminiscence of the analogic world, like fax-machines, typing machines, Typex. They survived through the arrival of PCs, cell-phones, the Internet, webcams, Skype. There’ll be still meetings when the climate warming will have turned Brussels into Veracruz – except we’ll be all in short-sleeves. Do you know how dinosaurs were extinct? You’re right: they were in a meeting, debating what was exactly that growing light in the sky.
There are meetings and meetings
We saw the meetings I can find myself in. But can we classify categories into categories? N’en déplaise to Mr. Seith Godin, there are more than three kinds of meetings, at least in our international environment. We have the meetings to formally announce what has been negotiated in the corridors days, hours or minutes before the gathering. Those are like Molière plays, it can be entertaining if well played, boring for hours if deserved by below-the-average comedians.
We have the secret meetings, about which nobody should never know. They don’t even take place within our buildings. Shakespeare would be proud: conspiracy and secret plots are listed on the agenda. I used to have my share of them in my first years in the Parliament – a habit from the private sectors where there is always someone to kill or to betray on your way to the power. Alas secret meetings don’t really belong to the institutional culture, at least at my level of conspiracy. Say «Good-bye» to Shakespeare and his crimes in the castle and «Hello» to Tchekov and his there-is-no-hero-theatre.
There are the meetings to which you don’t understand why you’ve been invited. Those are tributes to Beckett. You wait, you wait, you hardly understand the agenda and almost none of the exchanges between the protagonists. Absurd at its best comes when they asked your opinion on some strange subject you can’t grasp if it’s a Malaysian deity or a new IT-protocol. Ionesco’s bonus if you can spot an attendant as lost as you are and involve him or her in a discussion about just anything else.
Oh, and the meetings you’ve been invited to so they just can exist. The Pirandello’s meetings where everything is played only for you. I now sense them miles ahead, now, and I’d never be trapped in one of those anymore.
Maybe the worst category, to conclude: the meetings you missed and that were great. Flabbergasting. Memorable. Historic. Too bad you weren’t there. Maybe you were in another powwow? You should have been there, really. That was a proper meeting.