One way to shorten meetings is to compile a list of methods for wasting time, and then not do any of it. Since many of us are experts at not doing things that are on lists, this works very well. So I made a list of ways to waste time in meetings. I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill time wasters, like discussing to death something nobody can do anything about. No, I'm talking about massive wastage — the kind that can be well executed only by a malicious genius or somebody with a serious mental disorder.
Here's an If everyone is familiar with
how we waste time, people
are less likely to do the
things that waste timeexample. You're working on a document that's a joint effort of two departments. One passage now reads, "It is likely that competitors will respond with both price reductions and capability enhancements." You decide to propose a revision: "It is probable that our competitors will respond with both capability enhancements and price reductions." To the untrained eye, this proposal is noncontroversial. But to the inefficiency expert, it's brilliant. What will follow will be a long debate, maybe even extending into another meeting. Glorious!
Here's a little catalog of general time-wasting techniques for meetings. We'll address virtual meetings next time.
- Arrive late and insist that the chair bring you "up to speed."
- As the chair summarizes what you missed, pay no attention. You can always ask again later.
- Insist that the meeting begin only after the late arrivals arrive. This works best if you're one of the late arrivals. No point wasting your own time.
- If you're the chair, send the meeting invitation with no clue as to agenda.
- Deny having received the emailed meeting documents. Ask for them to be re-sent.
- Propose a change to the order of the agenda.
- Only after your agenda change has been debated and rejected, announce that because you're leaving early, the agenda change is necessary.
- Start a heated debate with somebody about something only the two of you know anything about.
- Start a heated debate with somebody about something only you know anything about.
- Start a heated debate with somebody about something not even you know anything about.
- During the meeting, send a high-priority text broadcast to everyone else to find out who didn't mute their devices.
- Change the subject to something so explosive that nobody can resist changing the subject.
- Speak in not-so-hushed tones to your neighbor. If he or she is already talking to somebody, interrupt them.
- If you get a phone call while you have the floor, take it. Step out of the room. If you don't get a phone call while you have the floor, pretend you did.
- Pay no attention to the discussion. If you lose the thread, ask an unrelated question.
- Don't bring your handouts with you to the meeting. Suddenly say, "I can't find my copy," rush out of the room, and make them wait.
- After breaks, return last.
How many of these have you seen in the past week? Next in this series Top Next Issue
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:
- Untangling Tangled Threads
- In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's
a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pre-Decision Discussions: Facts
- The purpose of some meetings is reaching decisions. Because decision making can be difficult, familiarity
with the forms of contributions that can occur in such discussions is helpful. Their connection to facts
See also Effective Meetings and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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