When we complain that meetings are boring, time-wasting, maddening, or frustrating, it might help to check first about the roles we play ourselves. There are dozens of tactics and ploys, which I've been collecting over the years. Here's the third installment of a little catalog of the more common ones. See "Games for Meetings: II," Point Lookout for February 19, 2003, and "Games for Meetings: IV," Point Lookout for April 16, 2003, for more.
- Rewriting History
- Let's recast this enterprise-scale disaster into a near-miraculous feat of strategic planning.
- When we all want to see things from a particular perspective, we sometimes re-enforce each other. We support each other in denying the obvious. And smart people are especially vulnerable, because they can create more elaborately plausible pseudo-explanations. If your team has these tendencies, invite one or two observers. Their mere presence can be a deterrent.
- Piling On
- Someone is declared "it," and many of us attack. Much more interesting if designee is actually present.
- When several people attack another, they can cause permanent damage to the team, because afterwards, everyone knows that anyone can be a target. When an attack occurs, the chair is in the best position to intervene immediately to end it, adjourning the meeting if necessary, to deal privately with the problem of piling on. If you're present when an attack occurs, and the chair doesn't intervene, either raise the issue, or object, or excuse yourself from the room.
- I'm Finally Here
- I always arrive late, proving my importance.
- Late arrivals, at best, disrupt the flow of the meeting, and might even delay its start. Tolerating this pattern is an expensive habit. If many people are often late, it's possible that everyone is overloaded, or that the pattern is so well-established that it doesn't pay to arrive on time. Whatever the case, this problem is one that management is best able to address.
- I'm Rarely Here
- I'm too important for this, but please schedule these meetings to fit my downtime in case I can make it.
- Making allowances for someone who rarely shows up degrades the importance of the effort and demoralizes the team. Schedule the meeting for the convenience of the people who attend it.
- Approving the Minutes
- We always approve the minutes, no matter what they don't say.
- Minutes are useful as records of what was decided and why. An organization in which people are afraid to write down this information eventually pays a high price — it cannot learn from its mistakes.
- Cellular Escape
- Have someone (or some device) page you.
- Tricky, tricky. This one used to work, maybe in 1999. No longer — now people who excuse themselves this way have been heard to exclaim, "It's real! Honest!"
Which of these do you do? Which can you stop doing? What can you do instead? Keep track of what you see in your meetings, and talk about their costs. More coming in future issues — send me descriptions of your more delightful discoveries. Top Next Issue
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!
For more on telephonic deceptions, see "Telephonic Deceptions: I," Point Lookout for September 14, 2011.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Think 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?
- Poverty of Choice by Choice
- Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life
can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions,
and how can we tell when we're doing it?
- Virtual Communications: I
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here are some
guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- 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.
- Meeting Troubles: Culture
- Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside
our awareness. Here are some examples.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
- And on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
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