Organizational culture is the set of attitudes, values, norms, and beliefs widely held by members of the organization. The elements of culture need not be self-consistent, but they affect the organization's goals, strategies, and structure, and its approaches to setting and achieving its objectives. The people of the organization need not be aware of every cultural element, nor is their behavior always consistent with the culture.
Culture can contribute to troubles in meetings. For example, if harmony is highly valued, people try to please — and avoid displeasing — each other. These tendencies can elevate the chances of taking a Trip to Abilene, which happens when everyone in a group agrees to a proposal that nobody actually wants, because they all believe that everyone else favors it.
Here are three examples of meeting troubles that have cultural causes.
- Insufficient facilities
- Organizations can sometimes be shortsighted about cost control. They invest too little in meeting facilities, especially those for virtual teams, which have expensive requirements. Scarcity of adequate facilities causes teams to claim time slots in advance of known needs. Once they claim a time slot, they feel obliged to meet, and to use the entire slot. This sense of pressure to meet can lead to a waste of everyone's time. If teams cannot secure the facilities they need, they meet in settings unsuited to the task — for example, an audio-only virtual workspace to conduct discussions that actually need an electronic whiteboard. When such mismatches occur, groups tend not to account for the shortcomings of the meeting setting. Meetings run overtime and output quality suffers.
- Reducing facilities Cultures that value teamwork
sometimes confuse working
together with getting togetherexpense is often the most expensive strategy, if we account for the cost of the resulting delays and bad decisions.
- Serial submeetings
- Cultures that value teamwork sometimes confuse working together with getting together. Often, a team meets as one, when meeting as subteams would be more effective. One indicator of this pattern is a meeting consisting of serial submeetings — a sequence of discussions in which few people are involved or qualified to contribute. Each subteam takes its turn, while everyone else looks on.
- For increased effectiveness, the team could have the subteams meet in parallel or at times they choose, reporting afterwards to the whole any issues or surprises. This creates free time for the team to assemble to address shared issues, or to connect socially.
- Ritualized standups
- Standup meetings are increasingly popular, especially in organizations that value Agile processes. Standups are supposedly shorter because of the discomfort of standing. But they don't help at all unless the content of the meeting is suited to that form, which works best for quick check-ins, for a total of at most 15 minutes.
- Extended discussion of complex issues still requires chairs, a table, and maybe other equipment — like a notepad or a laptop and projector. Use a standup only when it fits the agenda.
You've probably seen other examples of cultural causes of meeting troubles. Send them along and I'll include them in a future installment of this growing collection. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Exploiting Failed Ideas
- When the approach you've been using fails, how do you go about devising Plan B? Or Plan C? Here are
some ways to find new approaches by examining failures.
- Virtual Meetings: Dealing with Inattention
- There is much we can do to reduce the incidence of inattention in virtual meetings. Cooperation is required.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: I
- By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of
the most-often overlooked costs of meetings.
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: III
- When we need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, we risk giving offense. Still, there
are times when interrupting is in everyone's best interest. Here are some more techniques for interrupting
in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process.
- Effects of Shared Information Bias: II
- Shared information bias is widely recognized as a cause of bad decisions. But over time, it can also
erode a group's ability to assess reality accurately. That can lead to a widening gap between reality
and the group's perceptions of reality.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: 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. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.