When meetings are outlawed, only outlaws will hold meetings:
The actual Shopify policy appears to be more nuanced than the headlines would have you believe. A periodic reboot of standing meetings, an encouragement to look more critically at whether to reinstate them or not.
But while the policy may have nuance, their public pronouncements beat a standard techbro rhythm. “Meetings are a bug.” “No one joined Shopify to sit in meetings.” Something something builder, yadda yadda individual work of lone technical geniuses.
This one-two punch of absolutist public statements and messier internal implementation isn’t new. Like Spotify’s squad/guild system, the public version is mostly a signalling and recruiting tool. Never mind that the internal reality is deeply different, and the people close to it would never use the public version.
I have my own opinions about meetings and meeting-haters, but more broadly, I do wish more folks kept the dynamic described above in mind.
I used to think about this a lot ten-or-so years ago(!) when no one could stop talking about how Netflix had moved all of their infrastructure to the AWS and how great that was. Twitter and LinkedIn were constantly blanketed with posts about how everyone needed to be like Netflix, and Reed Hastings and Adrian Cockcroft were the golden boys for how you should run your IT group.
Ditto a few years later, when it was all about Spotify’s “tribes” and Zappos’ holocracy nonsense. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I don’t mean to say these stories were all lies. Those companies did implement the strategies, tactics, and processes they talked about. I would bet money, however, that the way they talked about them in public was heavily marketing-driven and bore only a passing resemblance to how well things were actually working on the ground internally. “We had this great idea, we implemented it successfully, and now everything is 1000% better” is great for recruiting. It also is great for marketing and brand-recognition when your executives are making the rounds of conferences, podcasts, and the tech press, going on about it. Having every other company in the industry talking about how they need to be like Netflix means that everyone is talking about Netflix.
I am sure that in reality, none of this stuff was nearly as great internally as these companies were making it out to be externally. The holocracy stuff was—by most accounts—garbage, but even the best thought-out and planned strategies get super messy as soon as they hit the ground.
My problem is not so much with the companies that have come up with and tried out these kinds of big ideas. Rather, the problem is the parasitical ecosystem of consultants, thought-leaders, and tech pundits who latch on to them as one-size-fits-all solutions, as well as the executives at other companies who read about it in the latest issue of CIO or see it on LinkedIn and then force it on their own organizations.