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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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:

The worldDispersity Adversity
Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face. Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.
FearWhen Power Attends the Meeting
When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting in on the meetings of your subordinates.
A meeting at the 13th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation ConferenceTwelve Tips for More Masterful Virtual Presentations: II
Virtual presentations are unlike face-to-face presentations, because in the virtual environment, we're competing for audience attention against unanticipated distractions. Here's Part II of a collection of tips for masterful virtual presentations.
Images of people captured in a phoneToward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: I
Keeping attendees engaged in virtual meetings is a widely sought but rarely achieved objective. Here is Part I of a set of simple techniques to help facilitators enhance attendee engagement.
A goose and goslingsFlexible Queue Management
In meetings of 5-30 participants, managing the queue of contributors can be challenging. A strict first-in-first-out order can cause confusion and waste time if important contributions are delayed. Some meetings need more flexible queue management.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A labyrinth. It's a good metaphor for what toxic disrupts try to erect in the path of the group.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.
A wolf pack, probably preparing for a huntAnd 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.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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

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.