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Archive of Past Issues

Effective Meetings

Here are links to the previous issues of Point Lookout that touch on making meetings more effective. Bookmark this page. Or browse this archive by date. Subscribe now.

A stretch of the Amazon rain forest showing storm damageComing July 30: Unnecessary Boring Work: Part II
Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom. Available here and by RSS on July 30.

U.S. Congressman Jim Moran talks with constituents at a meeting on the federal budgetAnd on August 6: Impasses in Group Decision-Making: Part III
In group decision-making, impasses can develop. Some are related to the substance of the issue at hand. With some effort, we can usually resolve substantive impasses. But treating nonsubstantive impasses in the same way doesn't work. Here's why. Available here and by RSS on August 6.

Other topics:

July 9, 2014

Marching chickens, a metaphor for groupthinkWhat Groupthink Isn't
The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's astonishing how often it's misused and misunderstood. Here are some examples.

May 28, 2014

A foxhunt in VirginiaExasperation Generators: Opaque Metaphors
Most people don't mind going to meetings. They don't even mind coming back from them. It's being in meetings that can be so exasperating. What can we do about this?

May 21, 2014

An early automotive assembly line trialThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part III
Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.

May 14, 2014

The George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New JerseyThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part II
Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.

May 7, 2014

A virtual meeting of a particular fancy typeThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part I
By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of the most-often overlooked costs of meetings.

November 13, 2013

Firefighter lighting grass using a drip torchOvertalking: Part III
Overtalking other people is a practice that can be costly to organizations, even though it might confer short-term benefits on the people who engage in it. If you find that you are one who overtalks others, what can you do about it?

November 6, 2013

A meeting at the 13th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation ConferenceTwelve Tips for More Masterful Virtual Presentations: Part II
Virtual presentations are unlike face-to-face presentations, because in the virtual environment, we're competing for audience attention against unanticipated distractions. Here's Part II of a collection of tips for masterful virtual presentations.

October 30, 2013

A daffodilTwelve Tips for More Masterful Virtual Presentations: Part I
Virtual presentations are like face-to-face presentations, in that one (or a few) people present a program to an audience. But the similarity ends there. In the virtual environment, we have to adapt if we want to deliver a message effectively. We must learn to be captivating.

October 23, 2013

Dogs Fighting in a Wooded Clearing, by Frans SnydersOvertalking: Part II
Overtalking is a tactic for dominating a conversation by talking to stop others from talking. When it happens, what can we do about it?

October 16, 2013

Bull Elk Antler Sparring for Dominance in their herdOvertalking: Part I
Overtalking is the practice of using one's own talking to prevent others from talking. It can lead to hurt feelings and toxic conflict. Why does it happen and what can we do about it?

August 7, 2013

An Empire AppleVirtual Meetings: Dealing with Inattention
There is much we can do to reduce the incidence of inattention in virtual meetings. Cooperation is required.

July 31, 2013

Word salad with font dressingVirtual Meetings: Indicators of Inattention
If you've ever led a virtual meeting, you're probably familiar with the feeling that some attendees are doing something else. Here are some indicators of inattention.

July 24, 2013

Bowery men waiting for bread in a bread line in New York City in 1910Agenda Despots: Part II
Some meeting Chairs crave complete or near-complete control of their meeting agendas. In this Part II of our exploration of their techniques, we emphasize methods for managing unwanted topic contributions from attendees.

July 17, 2013

A dense Lodgepole Pine stand in Yellowstone National Park in the United StatesAgenda Despots: Part I
Many of us abhor meetings. Words like boring, silly, and waste come to mind. But for some meeting Chairs, meetings aren't boring at all, because they fear losing control of the agenda. To maintain control, they use the techniques of the Agenda Despots.

November 21, 2012

Silly putty dripping through a holeOn Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.

July 4, 2012

Gary Jones, Oklahoma State Auditor and InspectorWhen the Chair Is a Bully: Part III
When the Chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions to please the Chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because Chairs usually can retaliate against attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.

June 27, 2012

Congessman Darryl Issa (R-CA)When the Chair Is a Bully: Part II
Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.

June 20, 2012

Gregory B. Jaczko, the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).When the Chair Is a Bully: Part I
Most meetings have Chairs or "leads." Although the expression that the Chair "owns" the meeting is usually innocent shorthand, some Chairs actually believe that they own the meeting. This view is almost entirely destructive. What are the consequences of this attitude, and what can we do about it?

June 13, 2012

Comparision of brain scans before and after a concussionMeeting 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?

March 7, 2012

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United StatesSpeak for Influence
Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.

August 31, 2011

President Lincoln and Gen. George B. McClellan in the general's tentIs the Question "How?" or "Whether?"
In group decision-making, tension sometimes develops between those who favor commitment to the opportunity at hand, and those who repeatedly ask, "If we do that, how will we do it?" Why does this happen?

February 16, 2011

Heiltskuk Icefield, British ColumbiaFinding the Third Way
When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.

July 28, 2010

Senator Carter Glass (Democrat of Virginia) and Representative Henry B. Steagall (Democrat, Alabama Third), the co-sponsors of the Glass-Steagall ActExploiting Failed Ideas
When the approach you've been using fails, how do you go about devising Plan B? Or Plan C? Here are some ways to find new approaches by examining failures.

May 5, 2010

A Lockheed L-1011 Tristar aircraft like the one flown by Eastern Airlines flight 401Problem Not-Solving
Group problem solving is a common purpose of meetings. Although much group problem solving is constructive, some patterns are useless or worse. Here are some of the more popular ways to engage in problem not-solving.

November 25, 2009

Dwarf mistletoe in JuniperAction Item Avoidance
In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.

November 11, 2009

A view of the site known as the Rock Garden, on MarsHow to Ruin Meetings
Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for doing something else altogether.

October 7, 2009

A senator rests on a cot in the Old Senate Chamber during a filibusterUntangling Tangled Threads
In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.

September 30, 2009

A single-strand knotTangled Thread Troubles
Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.

September 2, 2009

A Protestant church in Tuttlingen, GermanyBlind Agendas
Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.

May 13, 2009

The mushroom cloud from the Grable test of 1953Misleading 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.

April 8, 2009

A man using a chainsawDiscussion Distractions: Part II
Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.

April 1, 2009

Senator Susan Collins of MaineDiscussion Distractions: Part I
Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.

March 4, 2009

Old River Control StructureThe Fallacy of Composition
Rhetorical fallacies are errors of reasoning that introduce flaws in the logic of arguments. Used either intentionally or by accident, they often lead us to mistaken conclusions. The Fallacy of Composition is one of the more subtle fallacies, which makes it especially dangerous.

December 31, 2008

GEN Eric Shinseki and CWO Nicholas PunimataThe Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Group Dynamics
When a team relies on group discussion alone to evaluate proposals for the latest show-stopping near-disaster, it exposes itself to the risk that perfectly sound proposals might be inappropriately rejected. The source of some of this risk is the nature of group discussion.

December 17, 2008

Albert Einstein playing his violin on his 50th birthday in 1929The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion, the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.

October 1, 2008

Freight Peer Exchange participants discuss freight business opportunitiesHow to Eliminate Meetings
Reducing the length and frequency of meetings is the holy grail of organizational science. I've attended many meetings on this topic, most of which have come to naught. Here are some radical ideas that could change our lives.

April 9, 2008

The Samuel Morse Telegraph ReceiverRemote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part 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.

April 2, 2008

Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part II
Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.

March 26, 2008

An air traffic controller using a display system at an Air Route Traffic Control CenterRemote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part 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.

March 19, 2008

The Marx brothers: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and ZeppoTINOs: Teams in Name Only
Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.

March 5, 2008

2nd. Lt. Henry Martyn Robert, U.S. Army (center)What, Why, and How
When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.

January 9, 2008

Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986Towards More Gracious Disagreement
We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right, or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some thoughts to help you kick the habit.

January 2, 2008

The rabbit that went down the rabbit-holeOur Last Meeting Together
You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.

September 12, 2007

The piping plover, a threatened species of shore birdUsing the Parking Lot
In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more effective.

September 5, 2007

King Pyrrhus of EpiroDivisive Debates and Virulent Victories
When groups decide divisive issues, harmful effects can linger for weeks, months, or forever. Although those who prevail might be ready to "move on," others might feel so alienated that they experience even daily routine as fresh insult and disparagement. How a group handles divisive issues can determine its success.

May 9, 2007

Handbill for the exhibition of Manet's The Execution of Emperor MaximilianHave a Program, Not Just an Agenda
In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.

November 22, 2006

The Edison light bulbAsking Brilliant Questions
Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.

October 25, 2006

A hearing in the U.S. Senate, in which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is responding to questions about appropriations.What Makes a Good Question?
In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.

September 6, 2006

Tenacious under full sailThe Solving Lamp Is Lit
We waste a lot of time finding solutions before we understand the problem. And sometimes, we start solving before everyone is even aware of the problem. Here's how to prevent premature solution.

May 10, 2006

A broadcast-only sporting event during a pandemicSocial Distancing for Pandemic Flu
It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.

September 14, 2005

FedEx logoFedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference
Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open a universe of new choices.

September 7, 2005

Allison presentingMastering Q and A
The question-and-answer exchanges that occur during or after presentations rarely add much to the overall effort. But how you deal with questions can be a decisive factor in how your audience evaluates you and your message.

August 3, 2005

Jersey barriers outside the US White HouseProblem Defining and Problem Solving
Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving, and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.

May 25, 2005

A water bottleAn Agenda for Agendas
Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed" agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?

May 18, 2005

Carrot and stickIrrational Self-Interest
When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?

April 27, 2005

A tournamentQuestioning Questions
In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution. Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.

March 2, 2005

A sandwich piled highWorking Lunches
To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good idea, but there are some hidden costs.

February 23, 2005

A dog taking a napRecovering Time: Part I
Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get so little done? To recover time, limit the fragmentation of your day. Here are some tips for structuring your working day in larger chunks.

December 1, 2004

VotingDecisions, Decisions: Part II
Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?

November 17, 2004

Thumbs upDecisions, Decisions: Part I
Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right process for the job?

August 18, 2004

A meetingHow to Make Meetings Worth Attending
Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive. Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe even fun.

June 2, 2004

An eyeTake Any Seat: Part II
In meetings, where you sit in the room influences your effectiveness, both in the formal part of the meeting and in the milling-abouts that occur around breaks. You can take any seat, but if you make your choice strategically, you can better maintain your autonomy and power.

May 26, 2004

two different chairsTake Any Seat: Part I
When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing your seat strategically.

November 26, 2003

FearWhen Power Attends the Meeting
When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting in on the meetings of your subordinates.

October 22, 2003

A plopPlopping
When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?

September 3, 2003

Cubical map of the worldDispersed Teams and Latent Communications
When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them" becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

June 4, 2003

A rowboatFiguring Out What to Do First
Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?

April 16, 2003

Budget and ScheduleGames for Meetings: Part IV
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.

March 19, 2003

A late rabbitGames for Meetings: Part III
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.

February 19, 2003

A hot potatoGames for Meetings: Part II
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part II of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.

February 12, 2003

A forestGames for Meetings: Part I
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part I of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we can do about them.

January 29, 2003

A spirited conversationDiscussus Interruptus
You're chairing a meeting, and to your dismay, things get out of hand. People interrupt each other so often that nobody can complete a thought, and some people dominate the meeting. What can you do?

January 22, 2003

A cliff interrupting a trailLet Me Finish, Please
We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?

December 11, 2002

Wooden shoesWhat Haven't I Told You?
When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering this kind of knowledge more systematically.

November 27, 2002

Abilene,  Texas, USATrips 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.

November 6, 2002

The worldDispersity Adversity
Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face. Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.

April 10, 2002

Detour SignHow We Avoid Making Decisions
When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.

March 6, 2002

11:10 am is a good time to start a meetingMastering 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.

January 9, 2002

A tea kettle boiling overWhen Meetings Boil Over
At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?

January 2, 2002

The Thinker PowerPointingThink Before You PowerPoint
Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?

October 24, 2001

Working on a puzzleFirst Aid for Painful Meetings
The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the agenda for maximum effectiveness.

August 29, 2001

Hot and ColdTake Regular Temperature Readings
Team interactions are unimaginably complex. To avoid misunderstandings, offenses, omissions, and mistaken suppositions, teams need open communications. But no one has a full picture of everything that's happening. The Temperature Reading is a tool for surfacing hidden and invisible information, puzzles, appreciations, frustrations, and feelings.

April 4, 2001

Out of the actionThe 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?

March 14, 2001

Sleeping ducksAppreciate Differences
In group problem solving, diversity of opinion and healthy, reasoned debate ensure that our conclusions take into account all the difficulties we can anticipate. Lock-step thinking — and limited debate — expose us to the risk of unanticipated risk.

February 28, 2001

CornThe "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap
You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?

Where There's Smoke There's EmailTroubled by email flame wars? Or a blizzard of useless if well-intended messages from colleagues and subordinates? Read Where There's Smoke There's Email. Check it out!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Join the Organizational Politics Group at LinkedIn.comJoin the Office Politics, Workplace Politics and Organizational Politics discussion group at LinkedIn.com, the premier professional networking Web site.
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101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.

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