Nearly everyone I know complains that meetings are boring, time-wasting, maddening, or frustrating. Part of the problem is that we use meetings to engage in various forms of ritualized nonsense. There are dozens of these tactics and ploys, which I've been collecting over the years. Here's the first installment of a little catalog of the more common tactics. See "Games for Meetings: II," Point Lookout for February 19, 2003, for more.
- Here's a still-warm 20-page handout to read while we discuss this incredibly complex issue.
- People can't read something while they discuss it. When we distribute printed material "in support" of a presentation, we're actually undermining it, because we're asking people to do two things at once — listen and read. Most of us can't do that. Distribute supporting material far enough in advance to enable people to prepare for the meeting.
- Tree Slaughter
- Here's a 20-page handout that directly corresponds to my slides. File it, then let it age until recycled.
- One common excuse for this practice is that having in hand a printed version of the slides on the screen helps us make notes as the speaker goes along. If that's your reason, use "handout" format to decrease the page count and to reduce the damage to the world's forests.
- Let's see how many conversations we can have simultaneously and still believe we're accomplishing something.
- Sometimes, when sidebars erupt, the meeting chair lets them persist. Sidebars are distracting and reduce everyone's effectiveness. If you chair or facilitate a meeting, ask the speaker for a moment, and try something like, "Excuse me please. When I see multiple conversations going on, it seems to me that people aren't listening to the meeting. Phil has the floor right now." If the behavior is part of a pattern, deal with the "behavers" privately afterwards.
- I'm better than you are.
- This thesis is unprovable, except perhaps in the mind of the prover. When you find yourself doing this, breathe, then take a break if you can. When you feel that someone else is doing this, breathe, then take a break if you can.
- And I'm louder, too.
- The high-decibel version of "One-Up." Use the same approach for this as you would for a hurricane or typhoon: stay out of the way.
- Let's see who can speak a grammatically correct sentence consisting entirely of acronyms.
- Acronyms are often useful shorthand. Good acronyms eventually become words — "scuba," for example. But too often, we cross the line. We string letters together into unpronounceable chains, or we name components using artificial phrases that make "cute" acronyms. Use real words if you can, or coin something if necessary.
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 Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Take Any Seat: 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.
- Problem 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.
- Recalcitrant Collaborators
- Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments,
other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant,
what can we do?
- Speak 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.
- Managing Hindsight Bias Risk
- Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after
outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness
of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
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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.
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