We began last time exploring the costs of meeting interruptions that happen when a late arrival asks for a recap of what has already occurred. We noted that meeting leads, anticipating late arrivals, sometimes front-load their agendas with less-important items. We discussed the resentments and annoyance that habitual late arrivals can generate. And we sketched how accommodating late arrivals can create more late arrivals.
But requests for recaps can degrade the quality of meeting output in other ways. Here are four examples.
- The people who were present before the late arrival arrived have already heard what's being repeated. That's one reason why some of them regard recaps as opportunities not to pay attention. They check out. In virtual meetings, there's plenty to distract them. Examples: games, email, desk drawer contents rearranging, and if they're in the right place, people watching. For the meeting lead, bringing the distracted back to Planet Earth might be challenging. The time lost in a two-minute recap can become three minutes, four minutes, or more. Hopefully, nothing important happens before the distracted return to Earth.
- Debate about the recap
- Occasionally, delivering a recap exposes a disagreement about what actually occurred. Strong disagreements, though possible, are rare, but resolving even minor disagreements about the content of the recap can take additional time. Worse, toxic conflict can erupt if the meeting Lead uses the power of the Chair to rewrite history even slightly by presenting a biased recap.
- Loss of thread
- Even if there is agreement about the recap, the interruption itself can cause people to lose the thread of the discussion. In most discussions, some participants who weren't speaking at the time of the interruption might have had contributions in mind. When the action resumes, some might remember what they were about to say, but some won't. That's why, after interruptions, we sometimes hear, "Where were we?" or "Now, you were about to say…" or "What were you saying?" or, unbelievably, "What was I saying?" In some cases, when an important contribution is lost, even temporarily, or when people cannot remember the context of the interrupted discussion, the cost can be incalculable.
- Opportunity cost
- The time Four more ways in which
a late arrival's request
for a recap can degrade
meeting outputspent on delivering recaps, including debating their content, could have been spent on other agenda items. And if that were done, it's possible that the outcomes of those discussions might have been improved. But time is just one factor worth considering. People have a finite supply of energy for thought or self-regulation, and if we spend it on recaps and their associated distractions, resentments, and frustrations, it isn't available for real work.
Perhaps the most significant cost is interruption of flow[Csíkszentmihályi 1990]. Flow occurs when someone is immersed in an activity, intensely focused, and fully involved. Interrupting a meeting that is in flow can halt its creativity. Because recovery might not occur in that meeting, we may never know the cost of the lost creativity. First 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:
- Mastering Meeting Madness
- If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few
tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
- 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?
- Towards More Gracious Disagreement
- We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right,
or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some
thoughts to help you kick the habit.
- How to Eliminate Meetings
- Reducing the length and frequency of meetings is the holy grail of organizational science. I've attended
many meetings on this topic, most of which have come to naught. Here are some radical ideas that could
change our lives.
- How to Waste Time in Virtual Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings, and virtual meetings are at the top of most people's lists. Here's a
catalog of some of the worst practices.
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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