Meeting hijacking is widely defined as the result of the behavior of an individual who insists that the meeting participants discuss his or her preferred topic, instead of whatever is currently on the agenda. Although that situation could be a hijacking, the problem is both subtler and more complex.
For our purposes, we define a meeting hijacking as any attempt, in defiance of group norms, to take the meeting in a direction other than that determined by agreed-upon processes.
In the next issue, we'll catalog techniques hijackers use to hijack meetings. For now, let's explore why people try to hijack meetings.
In what follows, I'll use the names Horace or Harriet to refer to the attempted hijacker, in place of the awkward form "he or she."
- Some people hijack meetings to gain control of the group. They care less about content than they do about controlling the process. For example, they might want to undermine the chair's authority, hoping to demonstrate the chair's unsuitability for the role. Or they might be acting on behalf of powerful people, who might not even be present, if those people want the group to fail in its mission, for political reasons. Motivations abound.
- Those who seek control of the meeting are not always "control addicts." Sometimes people seek control quite rationally, if for nefarious purposes.
- Urgent sincerity
- When Horace The choice of response to hijack
attempts depends to some extent
on the motives of the hijackersurgently and sincerely believes that an issue must be addressed immediately, and when private attempts to convince the chair have failed to do so, he might attempt a hijacking. In one variety of urgent sincerity, Horace is laboring under a misapprehension of the actual issues facing the meeting. He might be either confused or misled by others. One can, after all, be sincerely mistaken.
- Horace can accept that the matter won't be addressed, or alternatively, he can try to persuade the other participants during the meeting. The latter alternative fits most definitions of hijacking. Appropriate responses to such actions differ markedly from responses to the more nefarious control-motivated tactics.
- Harriet might not actually care much about the agenda she's disrupting, but she does disrupt it because of an agreement she made with someone who does care. Typically this happens when Harriet's co-conspirator, Horace, cannot hijack the meeting himself. He might have acquired a reputation that has put the meeting chair on guard, or he might not be present. He might have an obvious conflict of interest that would undermine his direct attempts to hijack the meeting, whereas Harriet's attempts might be more likely to appear to be sincere.
- Most conspiracies are easily detected, but they often escape consideration as possible explanations for hijacking behavior because the idea seems so elaborate. Some feel reluctant to share the thought of conspiracy with others for fear of seeming "paranoid," to use the term in the lay sense. Conspiracies are most effective when they target people who can't accept their existence.
Motivations for hijack attempts vary widely. Your choice of response depends on what you think is actually happening. We'll examine hijacking techniques next time, and prevention in the issue after that. Next 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:
- Recovering Time: I
- Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get
so little done? To recover time, limit the fragmentation of your day. Here are some tips for structuring
your working day in larger chunks.
- Questioning Questions
- In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution.
Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
- TINOs: Teams in Name Only
- Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams
is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed
teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
- What Groupthink Isn't
- The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's
astonishing how often it's misused and misunderstood. Here are some examples.
- New Virtual Meetings for Teams
- Now that so many members of so many teams are working from home, the virtual meeting has taken on a
new form, and new importance. Here are suggestions for making your virtual team meetings more effective.
See also Effective Meetings and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.
- Wikipedia has a nice article with a list of additional resources
- Some public libraries offer collections. Here's an example from Saskatoon.
- Check my own links collection
- LinkedIn's Office Politics discussion group