Work Theater

Meetings, the practical alternative to work

This quote was on my boss’ mug that he made sure to bring to every meeting he attended. These kinds of silent protests worked well when we all sat in the same conference room to have a meeting, but as we’ve become more global, we call into all conference calls from our desk. At one point in my career, I had 30 hours of meetings a week! Meetings are often work theater, but what looks like work is not really work.

There are many adages on this theme: Don’t confuse effort with results.  He generated lots of smoke but no fire, or lots of heat but no light. When work consisted of making widgets, it was easy to measure both the effort and the results because they were correlated.  Unfortunately, we’ve never really left this correlation behind and it leads to a lot of work theater.

Many offices are the stage for work theater — a place where we put on a show about working.  It sure feels like work when we’re at the office even if we are talking about other things. Perhaps this leads to the rather simple reasoning about outsourcing information work.  It’s cheaper, so we can have 4 people “working” for the cost of 1.  But four people doing the wrong thing does not equal 1 person doing the right thing.  Outsourcing only works when a company rethinks how to make sure the outsourced group is responsible for results. Not all “work” is created equal.

In the process of selling our software to many large organizations, I experience a lot of work theater.  There is so much ambiguity for everyone at large companies that many isolate themselves into very limited boxes and only focus on one thing.  Without a doubt, these people do lots of “work”, but it’s not the same as getting results. This is why small motivated companies that are able to work toward targeted results, will win everyday.

Related Reading:
Steven Blank: “The Difference between Motion and Action”
Fred Wilson: Action Oriented Entrepreneurs







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