Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 30;   July 24, 2013: Agenda Despots: II

Agenda Despots: II

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Last updated: April 20, 2020

Some meeting chairs crave complete or near-complete control of their meeting agendas. In this Part II of our exploration of their techniques, we emphasize methods for managing unwanted topic contributions from attendees.
Bowery men waiting for bread in a bread line in New York City in 1910

Bowery men waiting for bread in a bread line in New York City in 1910. In some cases, the number of men might exceed the supply of bread, but most of the time, the men did actually receive bread. Those subjected to the whims of Agenda Despots, on the other hand, might well find that their contributions to agendas are never accepted. Meeting attendees who must deal with such a situation rapidly become disenchanted and cynical. Some will decline to contribute to discussions of topics that do appear on the agenda. In this way, the damage done by despotic behavior limits not only what topics are discussed, but also the content of the discussions that do occur. Photo available in the George Grantham Bain Collection of the U.S. Library of Congress.

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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Virtual Meetings: Indicators of Inattention  Next Issue

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