Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 23, Issue 19;   May 10, 2023: On Schedule Conflicts

On Schedule Conflicts


Schedule conflicts happen from time to time, even when the organization is healthy and all is well. But when schedule conflicts are common, they might indicate that the organization is trying to do too much with too few people.
Eurasian cranes migrating to Meyghan Salt Lake, Markazi Province of Iran

Eurasian cranes migrating to Meyghan Salt Lake, Markazi Province of Iran. These birds manage to "fuel up" in time for the journey, meet for embarcation, and assemble in formation in time to travel together twice each year. They do this without benefit of speech, meetings, or calendar software. Image (cc) Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported by Hamid Hajihusseini, courtesy Wikimedia.

When you need to attend (or want to attend) two meetings scheduled for the same time slot, you'll eventually resolve the conflict somehow, because you can't attend both. To resolve the schedule conflict, you must address two issues. The first is whether you'll attend the one that matters most, and the second is whether this schedule conflict will occur again. This post provides guidance for those seeking to resolve both issues.

Four factors that increase the incidence of schedule conflicts

Schedule conflicts are unavoidable. But when schedule conflicts are common, they might indicate that something is amiss. That's why it's useful to consider possible implications of a high incidence of schedule conflicts. Here are four factors that can contribute to an elevated level of schedule conflicts.

Too many projects for the available staff
If you have a high-level role in your organization, or if your role is critical for multiple projects or functions, schedule conflicts are less common for you than for others, because people tend to schedule things to accommodate you. That's unfortunate, because that practice insulates you from the level of double booking that others experience. And that insulation can delay your realizing that there's too much happening in the organization — too many projects, too many functions, or maybe just too many meetings.
Consider adopting an alternative organizational structure that has fewer projects or functions that require the attention of someone in your role.
Perhaps one cause of the scheduling conflicts isn't the need for you to be in two places at once, but is instead your own desire to be. An elevated level of schedule conflicts could be a signal that you're engaging in micromanagement.
If you've delegated responsibility for a project or function to others, let them execute. Make certain that they have what they need to do the job, and then get out of their way.
Too many meetings: Time-slot squatting
Time-slot squatting is the wasteful practice of conducting a "regular" meeting in a regular time slot whether or not the meeting is necessary. Usually the time slot is on a specific day of the week, either weekly or bi-weekly. By conducting the meeting regularly, the meeting owner hopes to keep the designated time slot open for all attendees. The fear is that if the meeting isn't held regularly, other meeting owners will be able to "claim" the slot for themselves. If that happens, the fearful meeting owner believes, finding a time to hold the meeting when all can attend will become difficult even if the meeting is necessary.
Time-slot Time-slot squatting is the wasteful practice
of conducting a "regular" meeting in a
regular time slot whether or not
the meeting is actually necessary
squatting feeds on itself. That is, because those who refrain from the practice quickly find themselves unable to find conflict-free times for meetings, there is an incentive to adopt the practice. The problem can be resolved, but only at the organizational level. The key to resolution is reducing the average number of meetings each person must attend. And that might require reducing the number of projects "in flight."
Toxic political conflict
Some double booking is intentional. For example, suppose Person A must — absolutely must — attend Meeting #1. And suppose the agenda of Meeting #2 includes an action that Person A opposes. To ensure that Person A cannot attend Meeting #2, Chair #2 (the owner of Meeting #2) schedules Meeting #2 to conflict with Meeting #1. This can happen as a result of a political rivalry between Person A and Chair #2, or some other rivalry for which Person A and/or Chair #2 are proxies.
This sort of thing arises from unresolved toxic political conflict. The problem here isn't one of scheduling. The parties to the conflict must resolve the conflict, possibly with "supervisory encouragement."

Last words

Knowledge of the incidence of schedule conflicts can be helpful in focusing the attention of Management on addressing this issue. Fortunately, the organization's calendar software probably has all the data required to determine the frequency of schedule conflicts. By weighting the importance of each meeting, we can create a metric that exposes trends in schedule conflicts and their importance. Together with data about cancellations, absenteeism unrelated to time off, and the incidence of rescheduling, we can produce a clear representation of the scale and impact of the problem. Go to top Top  Next issue: Clouted Thinking  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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Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

Don't start meetings on the hourMastering Meeting Madness
If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
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In group decision making, tension sometimes develops between those who favor commitment to the opportunity at hand, and those who repeatedly ask, "If we do that, how will we do it?" Why does this happen?
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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?
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Here's Part II of a set of simple techniques to help virtual meeting facilitators enhance attendee engagement.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Saturn during equinox — a composite of natural-color images from CassiniComing May 22: Rescheduling Collaborative Work
Rescheduling is what we do when the schedule we have now is so desperately unachievable that we must let go of it because when we look at it we can no longer decide whether to laugh or cry. The fear is that the new schedule might come to the same end. Available here and by RSS on May 22.
The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeAnd on May 29: Rescheduling: Project Factors
Rescheduling is what we do when we can no longer honor the schedule we have now. Of all causes of rescheduling, the more controllable are those found at the project level. Attending to them in one project can limit their effects on other projects. Available here and by RSS on May 29.

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