The word meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene. A meme is a concept, usually embedded in culture, and easily propagated from person to person. It might not be within the awareness of the members of the culture, but because they share it, they can act and interact in patterns everyone knows, which improves social efficiency. That's usually helpful, but if the goals thereby achieved are counter-productive, memes serve to enable the society to undermine itself — efficiently.
Workplace memes are artifacts of workplace culture. For instance, associated with meetings is a meme that governs their timing and duration. Most are scheduled to take one hour, or an integer number of hours, beginning at the top of an hour. This meme has the effect of setting the durations of meetings to whole hours, even if we need only 48 minutes. Note to meeting chairs: if you need only 48 minutes, start the meeting at 12 minutes past the hour. People will hug you.
Here are four other workplace memes, emphasizing the counter-productive.
- Candy dishes and doughnut meetings
- Sugary treats areIf you need only 48 minutes for
a meeting, start it at 12 minutes
past the hour. People will hug you. fun. Nearly everyone enjoys them. But spiking blood sugar leads inevitably to the sugar crash, sleepy afternoons, and elevated risk of bad decisions in meetings.
- Fruits, granola bars, or little packs of nuts or trail mix present far less risk to the organization.
- Slogan posters
- Slogan posters are those large colorful wall posters that bear platitudinous messages that sound like they make sense, but actually do not. Examples: "Good Things Come to Those Who Hustle;" "To Stand Out from the Competition, Stand Together as a Team."
- Inspiration is the intention, of course. But inspiration comes from inspirational people, not posters. If there aren't enough inspirational people among existing employees, have a look at your hiring and retention practices. And take down the posters.
- Bullet points
- Presentation software favors bullet points — short text fragments that suggest an intended meaning, but which are often too short to exclude unintended meanings. We're so accustomed to using presentations to communicate that we've begun to talk and think in bullet points. Unintended meanings abound.
- Let's go back to thinking and speaking not in bullet points, but in more fully formed, less ambiguous, and more complete thoughts.
- Reorganizations change the organizational authority hierarchy of the organization, and possibly the responsibilities of its people. The goal, we're told, is improved alignment between the organizational structure and the needs of a changing environment. We adapt.
- But associated with reorganizations is some collateral damage. Reorgs scramble relationships, which can be a source of sadness and lost effectiveness, though we rarely give that much thought. And often, just as we settle in with the new way things are, along comes another reorg. One must wonder: maybe the reorgs aren't about effectiveness. Maybe scrambling relationships is the point.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- First Aid for Painful Meetings
- The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between
a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the
agenda for maximum effectiveness.
- Completism is the desire to create or acquire a complete set of something. In our personal lives, it
drives collectors to pay high prices for rare items that "complete the set." In business it
drives us to squander our resources in surprising ways.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- On Virtual Relationships
- Whether or not you work as part of a virtual team, you probably work with some people you rarely meet
face-to-face. And there are some people you've never met, and probably never will. What does it take
to maintain good working relationships with people you rarely meet?
- Down in the Weeds: II
- To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of
detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing
with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
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- And on November 21: Make Suggestions Privately
- Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk. Available here and by RSS on November 21.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.