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

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!

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This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

King Pyrrhus of EpiroDivisive Debates and Virulent Victories
When groups decide divisive issues, harmful effects can linger for weeks, months, or forever. Although those who prevail might be ready to "move on," others might feel so alienated that they experience even daily routine as fresh insult and disparagement. How a group handles divisive issues can determine its success.
Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986Towards More Gracious Disagreement
We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right, or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some thoughts to help you kick the habit.
A Protestant church in Tuttlingen, GermanyBlind Agendas
Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.
A computer mouse, the tool we use so often to hijack our own mindsPreventing Meeting Hijacking
Meeting leads, meeting chairs, and facilitators must be prepared to deal with meeting hijackers. Hesitation, or any ineffectual action, enhances the hijacker's chances of success. Here are suggestions for preventing hijacking.
The mural on the wall of the Cambridge firehouseThe Major Annoyance of Mini-Digressions
Digressions are expensive. They limit progress in meetings. They're most noticeable when they deflect the entire meeting from its stated purpose. There is another kind of digression that's less noticeable, more common, and just as costly.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What most of us think of when we think of checklistsComing February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

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