Here are links to the previous issues of Point Lookout that touch on making meetings more effective. Bookmark this page. Or browse the Point Lookout archive by date. Subscribe now.
- Coming 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.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
Other topical archives:
June 7, 2023
- 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.
May 10, 2023
- 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.
March 29, 2023
- Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks.
December 7, 2022
- Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples.
August 17, 2022
- Why Meetings Go Down Rabbit Holes
- When a meeting goes "down the rabbit hole," it has swerved from the planned topic to detail-purgatory, problem-solving-hell, irrelevance, or worse. All participants, not only the Chair, contribute to the problem. Why does this happen?
July 27, 2022
- Gratuitous Use of Synonyms, Aliases, and Metaphors
- The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed how we work. We're now more virtual than before. In this new environment, synonyms, aliases, and metaphors can pave the path to trouble. To avoid expensive mistakes, our use of language must be more precise.
June 29, 2022
- 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.
June 8, 2022
- Flexible 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.
March 23, 2022
- Premortems are simulated retrospective examinations of future events, conducted as if those future events had already occurred. By combining the benefits of psychological safety with a shift in temporal perspective, they offer advantages for planners.
October 6, 2021
- Disagreements in Virtual Meetings
- Disagreements about substance can sometimes become unpleasant. And it seems that the likelihood of this happening is greater in virtual meetings. Six tactics can help keep things calm enough for groups to work better together.
September 29, 2021
- Formulaic Utterances: II
- Formulaic utterances are things we say that follow a pre-formed template. They're familiar to all, and have standard uses. "For example" is an example. In the workplace, some of them can be useful for establishing or maintaining dominance and credibility.
September 22, 2021
- Formulaic Utterances: I
- With all due respect is an example of a category of linguistic forms known as formulaic utterances. They differ across languages and cultures, but I speculate that their functions are near universal. In the workplace, using them can be constructive — or not.
August 18, 2021
- The 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.
May 19, 2021
- Pre-Decision Discussions: Reasoning
- When we meet to resolve issues related to upcoming decisions, we sometimes rely on reasoning to help find solutions. Contributions to these discussions generally use mixtures of deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning. How do they differ, and what are their strengths and risks?
May 12, 2021
- Pre-Decision Discussions: Emotions
- Some meeting agendas include exploring issues related to upcoming decisions. Although we believe that these discussions lead to rational decisions, some contributions evoke possibly misleading emotional responses. Here are five examples.
May 5, 2021
- Pre-Decision Discussions: Facts
- The purpose of some meetings is reaching decisions. Because decision making can be difficult, familiarity with the forms of contributions that can occur in such discussions is helpful. Their connection to facts is critical.
November 18, 2020
- Newly Virtual Politics: Meetings
- Pandemic or not, workplace politics marches on. But with the pandemic and the prevalence of formerly co-located teams becoming more virtual, workplace politics takes a new form, especially clearly so in meetings.
May 6, 2020
- New Virtual Meetings for Teams
- Now that so many members of so many teams are working from home, the virtual meeting has taken on a new form, and new importance. Here are suggestions for making your virtual team meetings more effective.
April 8, 2020
- The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions?
April 1, 2020
- Virtual Meetings: Then and Now
- Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to stay-at-home orders that affect many of us, more of our meetings are virtual, and the virtual meetings we used to conduct are somewhat changed. How have they changed, and what can we do about it?
March 11, 2020
- Contribution Misattribution
- In teams, acknowledging people for their contributions is essential for encouraging high performance. Failing to do so can be expensive. Three patterns of contribution misattribution are especially costly: theft, rejection/transmigration, and eliding.
August 28, 2019
- Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean.
August 21, 2019
- Perfectionism and Avoidance
- Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky.
August 14, 2019
- Workplace Politics and Social Exclusion: II
- In workplace politics, social exclusion can be based on the professional role of the target, the organizational role of the target, or personal attributes of the target. Each kind has its own effects. Each requires specific responses.
August 7, 2019
- Workplace Politics and Social Exclusion: I
- In the workplace, social exclusion is the practice of systematically excluding someone from activities in which they would otherwise be invited to participate. When used in workplace politics, it's ruinous for the person excluded, and expensive to the organization.
July 10, 2019
- Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen?
June 5, 2019
- I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes.
March 27, 2019
- Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers?
March 20, 2019
- Stone-Throwers at Meetings: I
- One class of disruptions in meetings includes the tactics of stone-throwers — people who exploit low-cost tactics to disrupt the meeting and distract all participants so as to obstruct progress. How do they do it, and what can the meeting chair do?
March 6, 2019
- A Pain Scale for Meetings
- 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.
February 27, 2019
- Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming.
February 20, 2019
- Brainstorming and Speedstorming: I
- Recent research suggests that brainstorming might not be as effective as we would like to believe it is. An alternative, speedstorming, might have some advantages for some teams solving some problems.
January 16, 2019
- Guidelines for Curmudgeon Teams
- The curmudgeon team is a subgroup of a larger team. Their job is to strengthen the team's conclusions and results by raising thorny issues that cause the team to reconsider the path it's about to take. In this way they help the team avoid dead ends and disasters.
January 2, 2019
- Issues-Only Team Meetings
- Time spent in regular meetings is productive to the extent that it moves the team closer to its objectives. Because uncovering and clarifying issues is more productive than distributing information or listening to status reports, issues-only team meetings focus energy where it will help most.
December 12, 2018
- Effects of Shared Information Bias: II
- Shared information bias is widely recognized as a cause of bad decisions. But over time, it can also erode a group's ability to assess reality accurately. That can lead to a widening gap between reality and the group's perceptions of reality.
December 5, 2018
- Effects of Shared Information Bias: I
- Shared information bias is the tendency for group discussions to emphasize what everyone already knows. It's widely believed to lead to bad decisions. But it can do much more damage than that.
October 17, 2018
- Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern.
July 11, 2018
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: III
- When we need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, we risk giving offense. Still, there are times when interrupting is in everyone's best interest. Here are some more techniques for interrupting in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process.
July 4, 2018
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
- When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process.
June 27, 2018
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely?
June 13, 2018
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: III
- People who habitually interrupt others in meetings must be fairly common, because I'm often asked about what to do about them. And you can find lots of tips on the Web, too. Some tips work well, some generally don't. Here are my thoughts about four more.
June 6, 2018
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
- People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics.
May 30, 2018
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
- When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters?
January 31, 2018
- Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
- The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions.
January 3, 2018
- 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.
October 25, 2017
- Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are four examples.
October 4, 2017
- 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.
September 27, 2017
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern.
May 3, 2017
- Start the Meeting with a Check-In
- Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed.
April 19, 2017
- Naming Ideas
- Participants in group discussions sometimes reference each other's contributions using the contributor's name. This risks offending the contributor or others who believe the idea is theirs. Naming ideas is less risky.
March 29, 2017
- Virtual Blowhards
- Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for dealing with virtual blowhards.
March 8, 2017
- The Opposite of Influence
- The question of why some people are so influential has a partner question: why are others largely ignored, or opposed, even when their contributions are valuable?
December 14, 2016
- Dealing with Meeting Hijackings
- When you haven't prevented a meeting hijacking, and you believe a hijacking is underway, what can you do? How can you regain control?
December 7, 2016
- Preventing 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.
November 30, 2016
- 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.
November 23, 2016
- Why People Hijack Meetings
- When as chair of a meeting, you have difficulty completing a reasonable agenda, you might be the target of a hijacking. Here's Part I of a series exploring meeting hijacking.
October 26, 2016
- Toward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: II
- Here's Part II of a set of simple techniques to help virtual meeting facilitators enhance attendee engagement.
October 19, 2016
- Toward 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.
September 28, 2016
- Favor Symmetric Virtual Meetings
- Virtual meetings are notorious for generating more frustration than useful output. One cause of the difficulties is asymmetry in the way we connect to virtual meetings.
August 31, 2016
- Contributions, Open and Closed
- We can classify contributions to discussions according to the likelihood that they stimulate new thought. The more open they are, the more they stimulate new thought. How can we encourage open contributions?
August 17, 2016
- 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.
August 10, 2016
- Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: I
- Your meetings start on time, but some people are habitually late. When they arrive, they ask, "What did I miss? Catch me up." This is an expensive way to do business. How expensive is it?
June 29, 2016
- How to Waste Time in Virtual Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings, and virtual meetings are at the top of most people's lists. Here's a catalog of some of the worst practices.
June 22, 2016
- How to Waste Time in Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause: us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
May 11, 2016
- Characterization Risk
- To characterize is to offer a description of a person, event, or concept. Characterizations are usually judgmental, and usually serve one side of a debate. And they often make trouble.
April 13, 2016
- Virtual Brainstorming: I
- When we need to brainstorm, meeting virtually carries a risk that our results might be problematic. Here's Part I of some steps to take to reduce the risk.
March 2, 2016
- Allocating Airtime: II
- Much has been said about people who don't get a fair chance to speak at meetings. We've even devised processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
February 24, 2016
- Allocating Airtime: I
- The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
July 1, 2015
- Ending Sidebars
- We say that a sidebar is underway in a meeting when two or more meeting participants converse without having been recognized by the chair. Sidebars can be helpful, but they can also be disruptive. How can we end sidebars quickly and politely?
June 24, 2015
- Preventing Sidebars
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. How can we prevent them?
June 17, 2015
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
March 11, 2015
- Historical Debates at Work
- One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates.
March 4, 2015
- Virtual Trips to Abilene
- One dysfunction of face-to-face meetings is the Trip to Abilene, which leads groups to make decisions no members actually support. It can afflict virtual meetings, too, even more easily.
November 5, 2014
- Rationalizing Creativity at Work: II
- Creative thinking at work can be nurtured or encouraged, but not forced or compelled. Leaders who try to compel creativity because of very real financial and schedule pressures rarely get the results they seek. Here are examples of tactics people use in mostly-futile attempts to compel creativity.
October 29, 2014
- Rationalizing Creativity at Work: I
- Much of the work of modern organizations requires creative thinking. But financial and schedule pressures can cause us to adopt processes that unexpectedly and paradoxically suppress creativity, thereby increasing costs and stretching schedules. What are the properties of effective approaches?
October 22, 2014
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
July 9, 2014
- What Groupthink Isn't
- The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's astonishing how often it's misused and misunderstood. Here are some examples.
May 28, 2014
- 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?
May 21, 2014
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: III
- Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.
May 14, 2014
- 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.
May 7, 2014
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: I
- By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of the most-often overlooked costs of meetings.
November 13, 2013
- Overtalking: III
- Overtalking other people is a practice that can be costly to organizations, even though it might confer short-term benefits on the people who engage in it. If you find that you are one who overtalks others, what can you do about it?
November 6, 2013
- Twelve 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.
October 30, 2013
- Twelve Tips for More Masterful Virtual Presentations: I
- Virtual presentations are like face-to-face presentations, in that one (or a few) people present a program to an audience. But the similarity ends there. In the virtual environment, we have to adapt if we want to deliver a message effectively. We must learn to be captivating.
October 23, 2013
- Overtalking: II
- Overtalking is a tactic for dominating a conversation by talking to stop others from talking. When it happens, what can we do about it?
August 7, 2013
- Virtual Meetings: Dealing with Inattention
- There is much we can do to reduce the incidence of inattention in virtual meetings. Cooperation is required.
July 31, 2013
- Virtual Meetings: Indicators of Inattention
- If you've ever led a virtual meeting, you're probably familiar with the feeling that some attendees are doing something else. Here are some indicators of inattention.
July 24, 2013
- Agenda Despots: II
- Some meeting chairs crave complete or near-complete control of their meeting agendas. In this Part II of our exploration of their techniques, we emphasize methods for managing unwanted topic contributions from attendees.
July 17, 2013
- Agenda Despots: I
- Many of us abhor meetings. Words like boring, silly, and waste come to mind. But for some meeting chairs, meetings aren't boring at all, because they fear losing control of the agenda. To maintain control, they use the techniques of the Agenda Despots.
November 21, 2012
- On Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
- Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
July 4, 2012
- When the Chair Is a Bully: III
- When the chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions to please the chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because chairs usually can retaliate against attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
June 27, 2012
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
June 20, 2012
- When the Chair Is a Bully: I
- Most meetings have chairs or "leads." Although the expression that the chair "owns" the meeting is usually innocent shorthand, some chairs actually believe that they own the meeting. This view is almost entirely destructive. What are the consequences of this attitude, and what can we do about it?
June 13, 2012
- Meeting Bullies: Advice for Chairs
- Bullying in meetings is difficult to address, because intervention in the moment is inherently public. When bullying happens in meetings, what can you do?
March 7, 2012
- Speak for Influence
- Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
August 31, 2011
- Is the Question "How?" or "Whether?"
- 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?
February 16, 2011
- Finding the Third Way
- When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.
July 28, 2010
- Exploiting Failed Ideas
- When the approach you've been using fails, how do you go about devising Plan B? Or Plan C? Here are some ways to find new approaches by examining failures.
May 5, 2010
- Problem Not-Solving
- Group problem solving is a common purpose of meetings. Although much group problem solving is constructive, some patterns are useless or worse. Here are some of the more popular ways to engage in problem not-solving.
November 25, 2009
- Action Item Avoidance
- In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
November 11, 2009
- How to Ruin Meetings
- Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for doing something else altogether.
October 7, 2009
- Untangling Tangled Threads
- In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
September 30, 2009
- Tangled Thread Troubles
- Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
September 2, 2009
- Blind 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.
May 13, 2009
- Misleading Vividness
- Group decision making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
April 8, 2009
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
April 1, 2009
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
March 4, 2009
- The Fallacy of Composition
- Rhetorical fallacies are errors of reasoning that introduce flaws in the logic of arguments. Used either intentionally or by accident, they often lead us to mistaken conclusions. The Fallacy of Composition is one of the more subtle fallacies, which makes it especially dangerous.
December 31, 2008
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Group Dynamics
- When a team relies on group discussion alone to evaluate proposals for the latest show-stopping near-disaster, it exposes itself to the risk that perfectly sound proposals might be inappropriately rejected. The source of some of this risk is the nature of group discussion.
December 17, 2008
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion, the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
October 1, 2008
- How to Eliminate Meetings
- Reducing the length and frequency of meetings is the holy grail of organizational science. I've attended many meetings on this topic, most of which have come to naught. Here are some radical ideas that could change our lives.
April 9, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
April 2, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
March 26, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I
- Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
March 19, 2008
- TINOs: Teams in Name Only
- Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
March 5, 2008
- What, Why, and How
- When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.
January 9, 2008
- Towards 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.
January 2, 2008
- Our Last Meeting Together
- You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
September 12, 2007
- Using the Parking Lot
- In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more effective.
September 5, 2007
- Divisive 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.
May 9, 2007
- Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda
- In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.
November 22, 2006
- Asking Brilliant Questions
- Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
October 25, 2006
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
September 6, 2006
- The Solving Lamp Is Lit
- We waste a lot of time finding solutions before we understand the problem. And sometimes, we start solving before everyone is even aware of the problem. Here's how to prevent premature solution.
May 10, 2006
- Social Distancing for Pandemic Flu
- It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.
September 14, 2005
- FedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference
- Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open a universe of new choices.
September 7, 2005
- 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.
August 3, 2005
- Problem Defining and Problem Solving
- Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving, and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.
May 25, 2005
- An Agenda for Agendas
- Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed" agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?
May 18, 2005
- Irrational Self-Interest
- When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
April 27, 2005
- Questioning Questions
- In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution. Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
March 2, 2005
- Working Lunches
- To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good idea, but there are some hidden costs.
February 23, 2005
- 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.
December 1, 2004
- Decisions, Decisions: II
- Most of us have participated in group decision making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?
November 17, 2004
- Decisions, Decisions: I
- Most of us have participated in group decision making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right process for the job?
August 18, 2004
- How to Make Meetings Worth Attending
- Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive. Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe even fun.
June 2, 2004
- Take Any Seat: II
- In meetings, where you sit in the room influences your effectiveness, both in the formal part of the meeting and in the milling-abouts that occur around breaks. You can take any seat, but if you make your choice strategically, you can better maintain your autonomy and power.
May 26, 2004
- Take Any Seat: I
- When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing your seat strategically.
November 26, 2003
- When 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.
October 22, 2003
- When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?
September 3, 2003
- Dispersed Teams and Latent Communications
- When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them" becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?
June 4, 2003
- Figuring Out What to Do First
- Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?
April 16, 2003
- Games for Meetings: IV
- 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 IV of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
March 19, 2003
- Games for Meetings: III
- 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 III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
February 19, 2003
- Games for Meetings: II
- 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 II of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
February 12, 2003
- 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.
January 29, 2003
- Discussus Interruptus
- You're chairing a meeting, and to your dismay, things get out of hand. People interrupt each other so often that nobody can complete a thought, and some people dominate the meeting. What can you do?
January 22, 2003
- Let Me Finish, Please
- We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
December 11, 2002
- What Haven't I Told You?
- When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering this kind of knowledge more systematically.
November 27, 2002
- Trips to Abilene
- When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question, we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
November 6, 2002
- Dispersity 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.
April 10, 2002
- How We Avoid Making Decisions
- When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
March 6, 2002
- Mastering 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.
January 9, 2002
- When Meetings Boil Over
- At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?
January 2, 2002
- Think Before You PowerPoint
- Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
October 24, 2001
- First Aid for Painful Meetings
- The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the agenda for maximum effectiveness.
August 29, 2001
- Take Regular Temperature Readings
- Team interactions are unimaginably complex. To avoid misunderstandings, offenses, omissions, and mistaken suppositions, teams need open communications. But no one has a full picture of everything that's happening. The Temperature Reading is a tool for surfacing hidden and invisible information, puzzles, appreciations, frustrations, and feelings.
April 4, 2001
- The Shape of the Table
- Not only was the meeting running over, but it now seemed that the entire far end of the table was having its own meeting. Why are some meetings like this?
March 14, 2001
- Appreciate Differences
- In group problem solving, diversity of opinion and healthy, reasoned debate ensure that our conclusions take into account all the difficulties we can anticipate. Lock-step thinking — and limited debate — expose us to the risk of unanticipated risk.
February 28, 2001
- The "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap
- You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?
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