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:
- Mastering Q and A
- The question-and-answer exchanges that occur during or after presentations rarely add much to the overall
effort. But how you deal with questions can be a decisive factor in how your audience evaluates you
and your message.
- Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: II
- When we interrupt a meeting to recap the action so far for a late-arriving attendee, the cost of the
recap itself is just the beginning. There are some less-obvious costs that can be even greater.
- Meeting Troubles: Culture
- Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside
our awareness. Here are some examples.
- Polychronic Meetings
- In very dynamic contexts, with multiple issues to address, we probably cannot rely on the usual format
of single-threaded meeting with a list of agenda items to be addressed each in their turn. A more flexible,
issue-driven format might work better.
- Formulaic Utterances: III
- Formulaic utterances are phrases that follow a pre-formed template. They're familiar, and they have
standard uses. "For example" is an example. In the workplace, some of them can help establish
or maintain dominance and credibility. Some do the opposite.
See also Effective Meetings and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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