Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 19, Issue 10;   March 6, 2019:

A Pain Scale for Meetings

by

Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action.
A meeting that's probably a bit too large

If there's anything people hate even more than meetings, it might be articles about why people hate meetings. Still reading, even after that sentence? Well, you'll be relieved to know that hating meetings is usually justified, at least to a degree. One way to get control of the problem is to make clear how often we do things that make our meetings dysfunctional.

A Pain Scale for Meetings can help. If we can rate the degree of frustration we experience on a meeting-by-meeting basis, we can recognize trends and gradually make corrections. Below is a list of "pain points" commonly found in meetings — things we do, or don't do, or do badly, that make our meetings painful.

Here's a way to use the list. For each meeting, score 1-5 points for each incident on the list that occurs during your meeting, assigning more points for more severe or more frequent incidents. For regular meetings — weekly or daily — track the score over time and try to drive it zero, meeting by meeting, in any way Most meetings could be shorter,
less frequent, and more
productive than they are
you can. If you aren't in a position to affect the frequency, duration, or intensity of some of these incidents, tracking them might still be useful. You might have the necessary influence in another meeting you lead, now or someday.

So here's a list of pain points.

  • The agenda was unrealistically long. They can't be serious.
  • Because attendees had no opportunity to contribute to the agenda, important items were omitted, and we spent time on trivia instead.
  • Attendees had no chance to prepare because the agenda wasn't distributed in advance.
  • Attendees had no chance to prepare because there was no agenda.
  • The agenda was available only in hardcopy, and only at the meeting. Seriously?
  • The agenda had so many diverse topics that the invitation list was bloated. Most of us had to sit through a third of the meeting that we knew nothing about and cared about even less.
  • The meeting chair didn't invite the right people.
  • The right people were invited but they had to leave before we got to the part of the agenda we needed them for.
  • The right people were invited but they couldn't attend due to conflicts with another meeting.
  • The right people were invited but didn't attend for some unknown reason.
  • Too many people attended. There was very little time to offer our opinions or to add information to the conversation.
  • Some people kept harping on the same old issues even though they knew we couldn't do anything about those issues until next month.
  • The meeting descended into a blamefest.
  • We took too many trips down too many of the same old rabbit holes.
  • We couldn't start on time because the meeting before us ran overtime.
  • Yet again we covered the same already-covered ground.
  • We couldn't resolve an important open issue because we didn't have the information we needed. Again.
  • Some people were attending in the room, and some were dialed in by telephone, but the people dialed in couldn't hear clearly enough what the people in the room were saying, so we had to keep repeating things.
  • The people who dialed in couldn't see the slides or the flip charts, and someone had to recite descriptions to them.
  • We met in person when a phone meeting would have done just as well. Might even have been better.
  • One of the people dialed in had a dog that felt compelled to participate. Probably the dog was objecting to the descriptions of the slides.
  • Another dialed-in attendee had a crying baby who also seemed not to like the descriptions of the slides.
  • Another dialed-in attendee was on a mobile phone connection that kept dropping, so when she reconnected we had to keep describing what happened while the connection was broken.
  • The ventilation system was so noisy that even the people who were attending in the room couldn't hear everyone.
  • It was a lunch meeting, but I arrived two minutes late and there wasn't enough food.
  • It was a lunch meeting, and even though I ordered vegetarian, someone must have taken a vegetarian lunch who didn't order one, because there wasn't one for me.
  • The meeting chair, acting as facilitator, didn't (and probably still doesn't) know how to facilitate. People just started talking without being recognized and the chair did nothing about it.
  • Some people took too much time to say unimportant things, while other people got no time to say important things.
  • Colin just likes hearing himself talk. Nobody else does.
  • Some people didn't pay attention at the meeting, and later claimed that they weren't told about changes in the plan.
  • Too many people were "stepping out" to take calls or whatever it was they did.
  • The handouts didn't arrive until halfway through the meeting, so even though we juggled the agenda to delay the item that needed the handouts, we still lost time and suffered through confusion.
  • The room was so cold I had to go back to my office for my coat.
  • It was a standup meeting, probably intended to keep it short, but the meeting was still too long, and worse, we were standing the whole time. Except the people who were dialed in. They probably sat. Tomorrow I'll dial in.
  • The meeting chair's boss dropped in unexpectedly, causing everyone to become guarded, except Alfred, one of the chair's rivals for promotion, who started bringing up embarrassing but irrelevant issues.
  • The two people at the far end of the table kept whispering to each other about who knows what.
  • Colin arrived ten minutes late, as usual, and asked for a recap, wasting everyone's time.

This list ought to get you started. If there are additional items you need for your painful meetings, feel free to add them. Go to top Top  Next issue: Some Risks of Short-Term Fixes  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo 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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenhZLYrRMtUnyjppRsner@ChacotqZAFalhYTBMgJWoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

A senator rests on a cot in the Old Senate Chamber during a filibusterUntangling Tangled Threads
In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
Silly putty dripping through a holeOn Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
XP-80 prototype Lulu-Belle on the groundRationalizing Creativity at Work: II
Creative thinking at work can be nurtured or encouraged, but not forced or compelled. Leaders who try to compel creativity because of very real financial and schedule pressures rarely get the results they seek. Here are examples of tactics people use in mostly-futile attempts to compel creativity.
Cherry blossoms, some open, some closedContributions, Open and Closed
We can classify contributions to discussions according to the likelihood that they stimulate new thought. The more open they are, the more they stimulate new thought. How can we encourage open contributions?
A lonely chimpanzeeWorkplace Politics and Social Exclusion: II
In workplace politics, social exclusion can be based on the professional role of the target, the organizational role of the target, or personal attributes of the target. Each kind has its own effects. Each requires specific responses.

See also Effective Meetings and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vial of COVID-19 vaccineComing February 3: Cost Concerns: Scale
When we consider the costs of problem solutions too early in the problem-solving process, the results of comparing alternatives might be unreliable. Deferring cost concerns until we fully understand the problem can yield more options and better decisions. Available here and by RSS on February 3.
Working remotely, in this case, from homeAnd on February 10: Remote Hires: Communications
When knowledge-oriented organizations hire remote workers, success is limited by the communications facilities they provide. Remote hires need phones, computers, email, text, video, calendars, and more. Communications infrastructure drives productivity. Available here and by RSS on February 10.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenhZLYrRMtUnyjppRsner@ChacotqZAFalhYTBMgJWoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.