When people convene for a meeting — real or virtual — the absence of some people in critical roles sometimes compels the group to reschedule the meeting. But when the people who are present have other business they need to address together, they might agree to "recycle" the time slot. That is, they decide in the moment to repurpose the meeting to address those other issues. We might call this the Since-We're-Already-Here tactic.
Although time slot recycling often seems like a good idea, it can seem to be a much better idea than it actually is. That's why it's useful to take a closer look at the risks of time slot recycling.
In what follows, I refer to the meeting that was initially scheduled as the Original Meeting. And I use the term Ad Hoc Meeting to refer to the meeting that the attendees decided to hold instead of the Original Meeting.
- The risk of poor decisions
- When we recycle a time slot, the quality of the output of the Ad Hoc Meeting is at risk. Since the Ad Hoc Meeting wasn't scheduled for that time slot, the people in attendance might not be prepared. Or some necessary people might be absent, because they weren't scheduled for the Original Meeting.
- One result is that the people in attendance might misunderstand the issues of the Ad Hoc Meeting. They might overlook other issues altogether. And these things can happen even if they have the best intentions.
- But If absenteeism or lack of preparation drives
time-slot recycling, the cause might seem
to be over-commitment of some individuals.
But maybe the organization is just trying
to do too much with too few people.there is also a risk that someone less-well-intentioned might exploit the situation. For example, if one of the missing attendees is a rival of one of those present, the present attendee might use the opportunity to advocate for a decision that might otherwise have been effectively prevented by the missing rival. A decision thus reached might be a good one — or not.
- The risk of enabling over-commitment
- If absenteeism or lack of preparation drives time-slot recycling, making the practice seem necessary, the proximate cause might be individual over-commitment. People are committed to so many different activities that they cannot attend or properly prepare for meetings.
- Time-slot recycling makes the disgrace of absenteeism or poor preparation less onerous for the offender, because the rest of the meeting attendees were able to conduct other useful business. In this way, time-slot recycling enables the organization to remain addicted to over-commitment.
- In the context of individual addiction, the term "enabling" refers to the behavior of one who persistently justifies or supports another's harmful behavior. [White 2022] Examples are making excuses for that person, providing (or allowing them to take) money, covering for or defending them, or ignoring their problematic behavior to avoid conflict.
- The concept of enabling is useful in the organizational context as well. In this case, the organization is "addicted" to the harmful practice of over-commitment. People who try their best to meet impossibly difficult expectations enable the organization in continuing this addiction. One result is an elevated incidence of time-slot recycling.
While-we-wait time slot recycling
While-we-wait time slot recycling is a related practice that seems more benign, but probably isn't. While-we-wait time slot recycling can occur in two forms. One is the practice of executing some parts of the Original Meeting's agenda that the people in attendance believe they can dispatch even in the absence of the missing attendees. The risk here, of course, is that the people in attendance might be wrong in estimating their own degree of expertise. [Brenner 2009] Other risks in this case are described above.
The second form of While-we-wait time slot recycling is the practice of starting another meeting altogether, as described above. In this form, though, there is an understanding that when the missing attendees arrive, the Ad Hoc Meeting will suspend and the Original Meeting will begin.
The risks for the Ad Hoc Meeting include those described above. In addition, there is the risk that some of the work produced will be lost or misremembered when the Ad Hoc Meeting reconvenes to complete its work.
The risks for the Original Meeting differ. In While-we-wait time slot recycling, when the Original Meeting eventually begins, its time slot has already been partially consumed by the now-suspended Ad Hoc Meeting. The pressure to complete its work in the time remaining can be irresistible, especially in the context of multiple time zones or in meeting-intensive environments. Rushed decisions can result. And rushing can compromise decision quality.
Each incident of time slot recycling makes the practice a bit more familiar — it contributes to normalizing the practice. If time slot recycling has harmful effects, those effects then tend to become more common. Think carefully before recycling a time slot. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Games for Meetings: I
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part I of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we can do about them.
- 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.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II
- Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources
are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
- Exasperation Generators: Opaque Metaphors
- Most people don't mind going to meetings. They don't even mind coming back from them. It's being
in meetings that can be so exasperating. What can we do about this?
- How to Hijack Meetings
- Recognizing the tactics meeting hijackers use is the first step to reducing the incidence of this abuse.
Here are some of those tactics.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 6: Off-Putting and Conversational Narcissism at Work: III
- Having off-putting interactions is one of four themes of conversational narcissism. Here are seven behavioral patterns that relate to off-putting interactions and how abusers use them to control conversations. Available here and by RSS on December 6.
- And on December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways requires, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
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