The automated voice of the teleconference lady announces: "Now joining... Name not recorded".
The meeting has started late, and the latecomers are still arriving. This is mainly because everyone has so many meetings to attend, they're still trying to make it from the last late-running meeting to this one. The host starts a pre-amble.
"Okay everyone, first of all sorry we've started a bit late! Can I just - "
The automaton interrupts him: "Now joining... Name not recorded".
"...can I just check - "
"Now joining... Name not recorded".
"...who's on the call?"
There is silence.
"Do we have Jack?"
"What about Brad?"
While we wait, I look around the room and take in the cast of characters on our end of the phone.
First there's the Meeting Nomad who, although a project manager by job title, in reality drifts from meeting to meeting and sets up camp behind his laptop where he does other work, without listening to or participating in the meeting he is currently inhabiting. Consequently he learns nothing and adds no value to the proceedings.
Next is Loudmouth whose role is to assert his superiority in all situations, never allowing his complete lack of understanding to become an obstacle to this. He will have to be managed if there is to be a useful outcome, but sadly the ineffective host has none of the required skills to do this.
Next round the table, and sat next to me, is the Junior Developer who has the deepest understanding out of all of us of the issues about to be discussed, but whose lowly rank relative to Loudmouth will necessitate his silence.
To the other side of me are Network Guy 1 and Network Guy 2, invited because most of what we'll be discussing will involve computers, and computers connect to networks. They also will say nothing throughout.
Finally there is the aforementioned Inept Meeting Host who, having ascertained who is on the call, is now having problems with his laptop and is swearing under his breath as he tries to bring up the document we were going to discuss. This regular occurrence surprises only him.
That leaves me. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to attempt to come away with specific actions and decisions which will be of use to the Junior Developer who has 2 weeks to complete the work.
The Inept Meeting Host has now managed to bring up the document, but has failed to circulate it. He decides to email it round, but unfortunately his laptop claims never to have heard of our WiFi network. There ensues a lengthy period during which time Loudmouth and one of the Network Guys huddle round his laptop and join in with a Random American on the phone in offering suggestions.
(The Random American, incidentally, is only random because I have never heard of him, but from his authoritative tone I assume he is some kind of manager in the vast and bewildering hierarchy of managers there seems to be).
I lean across to the Meeting Nomad.
"Do you know if anyone from Test is coming?" I ask.
He looks up from his laptop and blinks as his eyes adjust to the real world. "Test?" he asks, as if he hasn't heard of this team before. I consider the possibility that perhaps he hasn't.
"You know, Adrian's team. We need someone to test this stuff don't we!"
He frowns slightly. "Do we? No-one mentioned that to me."
I sit back.
Eventually they manage to connect to the Internet, but for some reason Outlook cannot connect.
The Inept Host is now, at someone's suggestion, setting up a Webex in order to share his screen and is in the process of requesting a password reset email since he has forgotten his password, and Network Guy 1 had told him to clear his cookies. No-one has remembered that he is unable to access his email so will be unable to receive the new password.
20 minutes into the hour-long meeting the laptop remembers that it in fact does know the WiFi network, the document is circulated, and we begin.
There is no agenda, but minutes for this meeting (were anyone taking minutes) could read something like this:
- Tedious walk-through of a document which everyone was supposed to have already read.
- Heated discussion around a minor point which Loudmouth knows a lot about. Action: Junior Developer has to ensure code correlates with an obscure standard, presumably in case we decide that this [2 week ill-conceived, poorly-thought-through hack inspired by short-term thinkers in the business with a dismal record in shrewd decisions] is such a good piece of software we may one day decide to put our logo on it and take it to market as an off-the-shelf product.
- Back Office Guy [who arrived, grinning, 46 minutes in] raised the fact that the proposed global solution won't work in the back office in the APAC region [despite his team being invited to all previous meetings, and invited to collaborate on and review all the documents]. Action: Meeting Nomad to "assess the impact" of this [even though we already understand the impact. But this gives him something to do in his next meeting.]
- All agreed that we should organise another meeting for next week to "review the actions from this meeting", and "see where we are" [which will be the same place we are now, but a week closer to the deadline].
As I leave the meeting I speculate on how I might transition to the role of Inept Meeting Host, or Loudmouth and save myself the stress of trying to do a good job. Perhaps there's a work shadowing programme?
Oh wait, I'm late for my next meeting.