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 non-controversial. 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.
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:
- Let Me Finish, Please
- We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to
interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly
common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
- How to Make Meetings Worth Attending
- Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive.
Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe
- An Agenda for Agendas
- Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed"
agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?
- Problem Defining and Problem Solving
- Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we
know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving,
and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone
or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II
of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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