One way to shorten meetings is to compile a list of methods for wasting time, and then not do any of it. Since many of us are experts at not doing things that are on lists, this works very well. So I made a list of ways to waste time in meetings. I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill time wasters, like discussing to death something nobody can do anything about. No, I'm talking about massive wastage — the kind that can be well executed only by a malicious genius or somebody with a serious mental disorder.
Here's an If everyone is familiar with
how we waste time, people
are less likely to do the
things that waste timeexample. You're working on a document that's a joint effort of two departments. One passage now reads, "It is likely that competitors will respond with both price reductions and capability enhancements." You decide to propose a revision: "It is probable that our competitors will respond with both capability enhancements and price reductions." To the untrained eye, this proposal is non-controversial. But to the inefficiency expert, it's brilliant. What will follow will be a long debate, maybe even extending into another meeting. Glorious!
Here's a little catalog of general time-wasting techniques for meetings. We'll address virtual meetings next time.
- Arrive late and insist that the Chair bring you "up to speed."
- As the Chair summarizes what you missed, pay no attention. You can always ask again later.
- Insist that the meeting begin only after the late arrivals arrive. This works best if you're one of the late arrivals. No point wasting your own time.
- If you're the Chair, send the meeting invitation with no clue as to agenda.
- Deny having received the emailed meeting documents. Ask for them to be re-sent.
- Propose a change to the order of the agenda.
- Only after your agenda change has been debated and rejected, announce that because you're leaving early, the agenda change is necessary.
- Start a heated debate with somebody about something only the two of you know anything about.
- Start a heated debate with somebody about something only you know anything about.
- Start a heated debate with somebody about something not even you know anything about.
- During the meeting, send a high-priority text broadcast to everyone else to find out who didn't mute their devices.
- Change the subject to something so explosive that nobody can resist changing the subject.
- Speak in not-so-hushed tones to your neighbor. If he or she is already talking to somebody, interrupt them.
- If you get a phone call while you have the floor, take it. Step out of the room. If you don't get a phone call while you have the floor, pretend you did.
- Pay no attention to the discussion. If you lose the thread, ask an unrelated question.
- Don't bring your handouts with you to the meeting. Suddenly say, "I can't find my copy," rush out of the room, and make them wait.
- After breaks, return last.
Do you spend
your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- The Shape of the Table
- Not only was the meeting running over, but it now seemed that the entire far end of the table was having
its own meeting. Why are some meetings like this?
- Mastering Meeting Madness
- If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few
tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I
- Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting
chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little
catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- 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.
- Misleading Vividness
- Group decision-making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid
examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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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.