The next slide appeared, and it was even busier-looking than the last one. Bugs picked up his sandwich. It looked great — thick slice of tomato, piled high…mmm-mmm. Compressing it, he took a big bite. Suddenly a thin slurry of mustard and tomato juices ran down his chin. He leaned over his paper plate, and reached for his paper napkin.
It was one of those nano-napkins you get in restaurant dispensers, and it was overmatched. So he rose and walked to the back of the room for more napkins.
Walking back to his seat, he noticed that the same slide was on the screen, but a heavy debate was underway. He sat down and listened for a moment. Then he broke in. "Excuse me, Ash, what did I miss?"
Ash summarized, and now Bugs was back in step with the discussion — at a cost. He had delayed the meeting, he had broken the flow, and no doubt he had missed something.
Lunch meetings don't work as well as we'd like. Here are some of the hidden costs:
- Food distracts
- Rustling wrappers, chocolate chip cookies, crisp potato chips, sumptuous sushi, your favorite sandwich — they're all wonderful. And they can distract us from the business of the meeting. Most of us just can't do our best work with all these distractions.
- We lose a chance to relax
- A working lunch
is neither work
- When we meet over food, we lose an opportunity for a period of relaxation, and a break away from the cares and stress of the workday. The more stressful and important the meeting, the more likely we are to meet over lunch. The more stressful and important the meeting, the more we need the break instead.
- The buffet is away
- If the meal is served as a buffet, people do step over to pick up something more — another bite, some mustard, or like Bugs, a napkin. When people are at the buffet, they're away. Absences corrupt decisions.
We probably can't stop all lunch meetings. In some companies, lunch meetings are actual policy. But we can do a better job of managing lunch meetings.
- Give people more space
- If you're serving food, everyone needs a seat at the table, and everyone needs more table space. Get a bigger room.
- Split the meeting
- Set aside time to eat. At least 20 minutes. During eating time, don't conduct business. Let people socialize.
- Serve food that's easy to eat
- If some people won't have table space, serve non-drip food that everyone can eat one-handed. Finger food or sandwiches work best.
We interfere with our own breaks in other ways too — not just meetings. For instance, some of you are reading this while you eat lunch. I hope you found it relaxing, but next time, what can you do differently? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas,
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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