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Status Updates Don’t Always Show the Whole Picture

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We’re all familiar with death by PowerPoint and email overload. But one executive thinks we should kill the status meeting.

Getting rid of routine meetings is one of the major objectives of an op-ed by Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of Clarizen. In the piece published on ZDnet, Nowogrodski writes:

Status updates – via email, a meeting, a PowerPoint deck – kill productivity. Information workers spend countless hours gathering information, preparing, and presenting about their work rather than DOING their work. If information about their work and the deliverables from their work is visible and available to their team and their leadership, information workers free more time to do the work and thoughtfully analyze information. This leads to more efficiency and to more engaged and motivated information professionals. Every information professional values knowing what their colleagues are doing and how it will impact their work. We all want to know the status, but we don’t have the time to waste building materials just to convey it. It should be conveyed by the work execution process.

This point of view has a certain bit of elegance. It’s like the old Chinese proverb:

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

And at first glance, status updates seem to be about not working. We stop to say what has been done and what cannot be done, instead of continuing to work. To many professionals, work is what happens when you aren’t in a meeting!

business consultants discuss meetings

© Flickr user Robin Hutton

Nowogrodski envisions a world where the status of projects doesn’t need to be intentionally communicated. Rather, he seems to want complete transparency. Anyone should be able to glance through the company network to see where progress is being made and where work has stalled. Our productivity consultants have written before about the advantages of a similar approach: collaboration zones over hard-and-fast deadlines. If you know what co-workers are doing at all times, you don’t need them to stop and organize themselves to make a presentation.

However, there is also a serious drawback to living in glass houses. The complete lack of privacy makes it more challenging for people to feel empowered and independent. There are no pleasant surprises when everything is public. There is little room for anything-goes, productivity growth brainstorming sessions. If everything you do at work is subject to scrutiny, taking risks becomes inconceivable. The advantage to status meetings is that you get to prepare.

The author of this piece is mostly correct. Generally speaking, status updates kill productivity. But that’s more a fault of our culture of work than the updates themselves. We over-prepare to give informal reports and paint rosy pictures of bad situations. If we were candid and brief, status meetings would not be such a problem. And if much of our work was visible, we’d probably not obsess over these reports anyhow.

If you feel like status updates really are beneficial for your organization, find ways to minimize the negative aspects. Set a time limit on the meeting. Ask people to just speak clearly about what’s going on. Don’t use flowery language or complex presentations. Make sure that only the necessary things are being talked about.

Workplaces can be glass houses, so long as we have somewhere private to retreat to when taking risks and working independently. Status updates don’t have to kill productivity. Management can truly be the art of picking smart people, taking their advice, and getting out of the way.

Stuck on how to implement these principles in your organization? Contact the business development consultants at AccelaWork today! We’d love to help you maximize all working time.

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