Incompetent managers abound. They let problems and toxic conflict fester. They provide little clarity of vision, or what is worse, conflicting visions. They favor some subordinates, abuse others, delegate responsibility to the irresponsible, and add load to the overloaded.
They can usually get by from day to day, managing somehow to surf the waves of chaos their incompetence creates. But one venue is especially challenging for these incompetents: the meeting.
In meetings, the people they manage — and supposedly lead — can sometimes raise issues publicly, which can remind everyone of long-standing problems, inconsistencies, and troubles looming inevitably but not yet arrived. To the meeting chair who wants to let sleeping dogs lie, meetings threaten to wake the dogs. And we can't have that.
The techniques of the Agenda Despot give these managers methods for keeping the sleeping dogs asleep and the growling dogs at bay. Here's Part I of a short catalog of techniques Agenda Despots use to control meeting agendas.
- Keep the agenda secret
- One very common technique of agenda control, and perhaps the least sophisticated, is secrecy. Secrecy often prevents all attendee topic contributions, because people assume that the agenda is filled and no time remains for any topics that might otherwise be addressed. Secrecy also limits the ability of attendees to prepare for the meeting, which provides the meeting leader further advantages.
- Don't publish allotted times
- In a well-formed agenda, all topics have time allotments. This enables the timekeeper (often the meeting lead) to determine whether the meeting is on schedule. By failing to publish time allotments, the Agenda Despot gains the freedom to permit expansive discussion of early items, which can consume time that might otherwise be available for later items. Since the time allotments are unpublished, most attendees are unaware when the meeting is running late. If the Agenda Despot views some of the later items unfavorably, they can be excluded from the meeting because "we ran out of time." In some cases, the Agenda Despot will have asked someone to prepare a presentation for one of these later items, all the while planning to run out of time. In this way, the Agenda Despot can intentionally The behavior of Agenda Despots
increases the likelihood
of bad decisionsburden the presenter, which limits the presenter's opportunities to attend to other responsibilities.
- Engage in agenda conspiracy
- An agenda conspiracy is a collaboration among a subset of meeting attendees, usually including the meeting lead, with a goal of developing the meeting agenda before anyone else can suggest topics. One common approach involves packing the agenda so full that there is little time left to allocate to topics suggested by anyone other than the conspirators.
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 Effective Meetings:
- When the Chair Is a Bully: III
- When the chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions
to please the chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because chairs usually can retaliate against
attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III
of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
- Allocating Airtime: I
- The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended
to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- Contributions, Open and Closed
- We can classify contributions to discussions according to the likelihood that they stimulate new thought.
The more open they are, the more they stimulate new thought. How can we encourage open contributions?
- Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not
be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern.
- Guidelines for Curmudgeon Teams
- The curmudgeon team is a subgroup of a larger team. Their job is to strengthen the team's conclusions
and results by raising thorny issues that cause the team to reconsider the path it's about to take.
In this way they help the team avoid dead ends and disasters.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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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.