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:
- Dispersed Teams and Latent Communications
- When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them"
becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why
does this happen and what can we do about it?
- The Fallacy of Composition
- Rhetorical fallacies are errors of reasoning that introduce flaws in the logic of arguments. Used either
intentionally or by accident, they often lead us to mistaken conclusions. The Fallacy of Composition
is one of the more subtle fallacies, which makes it especially dangerous.
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have
different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are
three examples of this pattern.
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
- People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some
tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics.
See also Effective Meetings and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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