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:
- 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.
- Decisions, Decisions: 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?
- Problem-Solving Ambassadors
- In dispersed teams, we often hold meetings to which we send delegations to work out issues of mutual
interest. These working sessions are a mix of problem solving and negotiation. People who are masters
of both are problem-solving ambassadors, and they're especially valuable to dispersed or global teams.
- Healthy Practices
- Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational
culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
- 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 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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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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