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
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Games for Meetings: III
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda
- In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met —
and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need
- How to Ruin Meetings
- Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for
doing something else altogether.
- I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views,
and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the
fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes.
- Gratuitous Use of Synonyms, Aliases, and Metaphors
- The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed how we work. We're now more virtual than before. In this
new environment, synonyms, aliases, and metaphors can pave the path to trouble. To avoid expensive mistakes,
our use of language must be more precise.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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