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 Since the time allotments are unpublished, most attendees are unaware when the meeting is running late.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:
- Take Any Seat: I
- When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps
to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing
your seat strategically.
- Decisions, Decisions: II
- 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?
- Using the Parking Lot
- In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the
discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which
we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Group Dynamics
- When a team relies on group discussion alone to evaluate proposals for the latest show-stopping near-disaster,
it exposes itself to the risk that perfectly sound proposals might be inappropriately rejected. The
source of some of this risk is the nature of group discussion.
- Historical Debates at Work
- One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what
and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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