Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 1;   January 2, 2008: Our Last Meeting Together

Our Last Meeting Together

by

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.

Wandering down the rabbit hole, or two people dueling, or problem-solving an issue that isn't ours to solve, are just three of the countless methods for converting productive meetings into frustrating time sinks. As meeting attendees, we can take more responsibility — and be more accountable — for meeting effectiveness. Here are some tips and insights for meeting attendees.

The rabbit that went down the rabbit hole

The rabbit that went down the rabbit hole. A colorized illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, from the original illustration by John Tenniel. The title of Chapter 1 of the book is "Down the Rabbit-Hole" and the illustration is from the first page. The phrase itself has been used metaphorically in many different contexts, but in describing group behavior in meetings, it refers to the phenomenon of straying from the immediate topic at hand, and entering into a prolonged discussion, often leading nowhere. Online editions of Alice are available at various Web sites, but this illustration is from the edition at www.gasl.org.

Prepare
Know what you're supposed to know. Don't fake it. If you aren't prepared, tell the chair in advance, privately, to enable agenda adjustment.
Arrive on time
If you know you'll be late, tell the chair. If you don't know in advance, phone or text someone. Don't make the others wait.
Leave space for your teammates
Unless you have specialized knowledge, you probably aren't the only one thinking whatever you're thinking. Let others contribute that thought. Offer it yourself only if nobody else does.
Ask rather than assert
Some of the most valuable contributions are questions. A good question can keep a group from making a serious mistake.
Identify rabbit holes and solution-monging
If you think the group might be lost down a rabbit-hole, or if they might be lost solving a problem they don't even own, say so. They're depending on you.
Stay on topic
Don't derail a productive discussion. If you have something that's off topic, save it for later. It might fit in another agenda item, or another meeting.
Abide by a three-exchange limit
If you get into a back-and-forth with someone, after you've "returned the ball" three times, stop. Everyone else probably tuned out after the second return.
Don't repeat yourself or anyone else
If something's been said once, that's enough. Repetition isn't persuasion.
Respect the chair
If something's been said
once, that's enough.
Repetition isn't persuasion.
The chair (or the chair's designee) owns the process. The chair determines who speaks, in what order, and for how long. The chair determines what goes in the parking lot and what doesn't. If you disagree, invoke a "process check."
Suggesting the best way probably won't help
Contributions of the form "I believe this way is best" are almost worthless. Rarely is there one best way.
Not speaking is extremely helpful
If you're talking, you're keeping things open. Speak only if you think your contribution will significantly enhance the result or the process.
Discussing the discussion is expensive
Adjusting the order of topics might help, but discussing the discussion is an expense, too. The net value added by discussing the discussion is marginal at best.

Most important, approach every meeting as if it were your last meeting together. Pretend that you're leaving the company. Make this next meeting a good one and make sure we all part friends. If you take every meeting one at a time with that point of view, things will probably get better — or as good as you can make them. Go to top Top  Next issue: Towards More Gracious Disagreement  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo 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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Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A doorknobDoorknob Disclosures and Bye-Bye Bombshells
A doorknob disclosure is an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit. When we learn about bad news in this way, we can feel frustrated and trapped. How can we respond effectively?
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.
Benjamin FranklinProblem-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.
A calm seaAn Emergency Toolkit
You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond, but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
A beefsteak, with some amount of fatWacky Words of Wisdom: VI
Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Effective Meetings and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Two bull elk sparring in Grand Teton National Park, WyomingComing 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.
Stained Glass of William of Ockham in a church in Surrey, England, United KingdomAnd on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.

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