Although Agenda Despots seek complete control of their meetings' agendas, many organizational cultures value openness and collaborative approaches to meeting management. Many Agenda Despots must therefore feign openness to topics contributed by attendees. Here are seven methods for controlling the agenda without seeming to do so.
- Abuse the not-agenda
- A not-agenda is a list of topics that won't be addressed at the meeting. (See "First Aid for Painful Meetings," Point Lookout for October 24, 2001) Although most meetings don't specify not-agendas, not-agendas can be abused. One method is publishing the not-agenda before soliciting contributions for the agenda, thereby fending off contributions before they're offered.
- Freeze the agenda
- In this approach, Agenda Despots announce a freeze date after which topic contributions can't be considered. By setting this date early enough, or setting it to precede a significant scheduled news-generating event, the Agenda Despot can exclude disfavored topics that depend on late-breaking news.
- Don't solicit agenda contributions
- Some attendees need a little nudge before they dare contribute agenda topics. Some need reminders. By failing to provide nudges or reminders, Agenda Despots attenuate the contributed topic stream, and might even prevent disfavored contributions.
- Abuse the parking lot
- The "parking lot" is a list of topics and issues that arise during the meeting, and which aren't on the agenda. (See "Using the Parking Lot," Point Lookout for September 12, 2007) Parking lot abuse is the systematic ignoring of parked items. They're never addressed. In this way, Agenda Despots can continue to ignore topics that attendees might have contributed for the agenda in advance, and which the Agenda Despot nevertheless excluded from the agenda. If the contributors then raise their excluded topics during the meeting, the Agenda Despot parks them.
- Falsely promise inclusion
- When contributions do arrive, and one of them is unwelcome, the Agenda Despot can claim, "That topic would fit nicely in <name-of-already-included-topic>," which can mollify the contributor. At the meeting, the contributed topic is treated only cursorily, if at all.
- Reject contributions
- Rejecting contributions is always possible,Many of these techniques
are active deceptions but doing so can degrade the Agenda Despot's credibility, especially if he or she has solicited contributions. At times, the price might be worth paying, if the suggested topic is troublesome, and if the Agenda Despot has little credibility left to lose.
- Schedule disfavored topics for the end
- When Agenda Despots can't exclude from the agenda a suggested but disfavored topic, they can include it in the agenda, but schedule it near the end of the meeting. When earlier topics overrun their allotted times (if time allotments are published at all), the Agenda Despot, with great (but feigned) regret, can announce that "Regrettably, we must postpone this topic to a later date."
Many of these techniques are active deceptions, because they present the Agenda Despots as being open to contributions when in fact they are not. Using the concept of active deception, see how many additional techniques you can devise. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Irrational Self-Interest
- When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages
of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume
that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's
dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration
of the problem of bully chairs.
- Agenda Despots: I
- Many of us abhor meetings. Words like boring, silly, and waste come to mind. But for some meeting chairs,
meetings aren't boring at all, because they fear losing control of the agenda. To maintain control,
they use the techniques of the Agenda Despots.
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
- Favor Symmetric Virtual Meetings
- Virtual meetings are notorious for generating more frustration than useful output. One cause of the
difficulties is asymmetry in the way we connect to virtual meetings.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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