Surveying the literature about meetings, it's easy to find advice for running effective meetings. I therefore determined that the market for running ineffective meetings is underserved, and I now offer this humble contribution to that neglected field of study.
Probably the most effective way to make meetings ineffective is to take the discussion off track. If you're chairing the meeting, taking the discussion off track is so easy that there's little new I can offer. But if you're just a meeting participant, you're far from powerless.
There are three keys to taking a discussion off track:
- Know that you have personal responsibility. If the meeting is on track, it's your own fault.
- Know that you have personal power. Everyone else secretly wants to get off track — all they need is a little nudge.
- Know where the track is. You can take a meeting off track much more easily if you know what topics are on track. Pay attention.
With all this in mind, here are some tried-and-true techniques for getting meetings off track.
- Object to the agenda
- Since many meeting chairs now seek agenda consensus at the beginning of the meeting, don't object to the agenda then. That would be on-topic. Instead, wait. Raise your objection right in the middle of one of the agenda items. You can object to discussing this item now, or discussing this item ever. Or you can insist that before we discuss this item, we must discuss something not yet on the agenda. The possibilities are limitless.
- Dispute the way we discuss whatever we discuss
- If you If you can't derail a topic altogether,
then dispute the approach the meeting
is taking to discussing the topiccan't derail a topic altogether, then dispute the approach the meeting is taking to discussing the topic. If they're discussing the advantages of mowing the lawn north-to-south compared to south-to-north, throw in the idea of mowing east-to-west. Or mowing less frequently, or replacing the lawn with a rock garden.
- Outshine everyone
- Whenever anyone else is getting close to demonstrating that they know something about anything, take the opportunity to demonstrate that you know more than they do, or that whatever they might have been thinking of saying will be wrong.
- Misrepresent other people's contributions
- After Mr. Peabody presents proposals based on data showing that the new product line is outperforming the old, you can start by saying, "I agree with Mr. Peabody that the new product line is underperforming,…" Suddenly the discussion will shift from exploring Peabody's proposals to debating the meaning of Peabody's data. Digging their way out of that hole could take hours.
- Attack, Attack, Attack
- Nothing gets people going like a good old-fashioned ad hominem attack. Instead of critiquing the points people make, critique their personal integrity, their right to be in the meeting, or their humanity. Degrade others at every opportunity. See "Mudfights," Point Lookout for April 14, 2004 for more.
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:
- 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?
- What have you learned today? What has enriched you, changed your understanding of the world, or given
you a new view of history or the future? Learning something new every day is a worthy goal.
- 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.
- The Limits of Status Reports: I
- Some people erroneously believe that they can request status reports as often as they like, and including
any level of detail they deem necessary. Not so.
- How to Find Lessons to Learn
- When we conduct Lessons Learned sessions, how can we ensure that we find all the important lessons to
be learned? Here's one method.
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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Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.