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:
- Questioning Questions
- In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution.
Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the
answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- 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?
- Allocating Airtime: II
- Much has been said about people who don't get a fair chance to speak at meetings. We've even devised
processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
- And on July 4: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
- When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process. Available here and by RSS on July 4.
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