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Volume 16, Issue 33;   August 17, 2016: Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: II

Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: II

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Last updated: July 24, 2019

When we interrupt a meeting to recap the action so far for a late-arriving attendee, the cost of the recap itself is just the beginning. There are some less-obvious costs that can be even greater.
The "Good Work" team of Damon, Csíkszentmihályi, and Gardner

The term flow is due to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, shown here in the center. Although more is known about the phenomenon in individuals than in groups, it can occur in groups, in particular, in meetings. Shown here are the three co-authors of Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet: William Damon, Howard Gardner, and Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi. The book, and its associated research projects, explores the work — and challenges — of exemplary leaders and practitioners known for success and for doing work that is widely regarded as highly ethical. Photo by Ehirsh, courtesy Wikimedia.

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.

Distraction
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 output
spent 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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Virtual Teams Need Generous Travel Budgets  Next Issue

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Footnotes

[Csíkszentmihályi 1990]
See Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's fascinating and authoritative work, Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York: Harper and Row, 1990. Back

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