We began last time exploring the costs of meeting interruptions that happen when a late arrival asks for a recap of what has already occurred. We noted that meeting leads, anticipating late arrivals, sometimes front-load their agendas with less-important items. We discussed the resentments and annoyance that habitual late arrivals can generate. And we sketched how accommodating late arrivals can create more late arrivals.
But requests for recaps can degrade the quality of meeting output in other ways. Here are four examples.
- The people who were present before the late arrival arrived have already heard what's being repeated. That's one reason why some of them regard recaps as opportunities not to pay attention. They check out. In virtual meetings, there's plenty to distract them. Examples: games, email, desk drawer contents rearranging, and if they're in the right place, people watching. For the meeting lead, bringing the distracted back to Planet Earth might be challenging. The time lost in a two-minute recap can become three minutes, four minutes, or more. Hopefully, nothing important happens before the distracted return to Earth.
- Debate about the recap
- Occasionally, delivering a recap exposes a disagreement about what actually occurred. Strong disagreements, though possible, are rare, but resolving even minor disagreements about the content of the recap can take additional time. Worse, toxic conflict can erupt if the meeting Lead uses the power of the Chair to rewrite history even slightly by presenting a biased recap.
- Loss of thread
- Even if there is agreement about the recap, the interruption itself can cause people to lose the thread of the discussion. In most discussions, some participants who weren't speaking at the time of the interruption might have had contributions in mind. When the action resumes, some might remember what they were about to say, but some won't. That's why, after interruptions, we sometimes hear, "Where were we?" or "Now, you were about to say…" or "What were you saying?" or, unbelievably, "What was I saying?" In some cases, when an important contribution is lost, even temporarily, or when people cannot remember the context of the interrupted discussion, the cost can be incalculable.
- Opportunity cost
- The time Four more ways in which
a late arrival's request
for a recap can degrade
meeting outputspent on delivering recaps, including debating their content, could have been spent on other agenda items. And if that were done, it's possible that the outcomes of those discussions might have been improved. But time is just one factor worth considering. People have a finite supply of energy for thought or self-regulation, and if we spend it on recaps and their associated distractions, resentments, and frustrations, it isn't available for real work.
Perhaps the most significant cost is interruption of flow[Csíkszentmihályi 1990]. Flow occurs when someone is immersed in an activity, intensely focused, and fully involved. Interrupting a meeting that is in flow can halt its creativity. Because recovery might not occur in that meeting, we may never know the cost of the lost creativity. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Trips to Abilene
- When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question,
we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
- Meeting Bullies: Advice for Chairs
- Bullying in meetings is difficult to address, because intervention in the moment is inherently public.
When bullying happens in meetings, what can you do?
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
- Contributions, Open and Closed
- We can classify contributions to discussions according to the likelihood that they stimulate new thought.
The more open they are, the more they stimulate new thought. How can we encourage open contributions?
- Naming Ideas
- Participants in group discussions sometimes reference each other's contributions using the contributor's
name. This risks offending the contributor or others who believe the idea is theirs. Naming ideas is
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- 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.