by Rick Brenner
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.
The next slide appeared, and it was even busier-looking than the last one. Bugs picked up his sandwich. It looked great — thick slice of tomato, piled high…mmm-mmm. Compressing it, he took a big bite. Suddenly a thin slurry of mustard and tomato juices ran down his chin. He leaned over his paper plate, and reached for his paper napkin.
It was one of those nano-napkins you get in restaurant dispensers, and it was overmatched. So he rose and walked to the back of the room for more napkins.
Walking back to his seat, he noticed that the same slide was on the screen, but a heavy debate was underway. He sat down and listened for a moment. Then he broke in. "Excuse me, Ash, what did I miss?"
Ash summarized, and now Bugs was back in step with the discussion — at a cost. He had delayed the meeting, he had broken the flow, and no doubt he had missed something.
Lunch meetings don't work as well as we'd like. Here are some of the hidden costs:
- Food distracts
- Rustling wrappers, chocolate chip cookies, crisp potato chips, sumptuous sushi, your favorite sandwich — they're all wonderful. And they can distract us from the business of the meeting. Most of us just can't do our best work with all these distractions.
- We lose a chance to relax
- A working lunch
is neither work
- When we meet over food, we lose an opportunity for a period of relaxation, and a break away from the cares and stress of the workday. The more stressful and important the meeting, the more likely we are to meet over lunch. The more stressful and important the meeting, the more we need the break instead.
- The buffet is away
- If the meal is served as a buffet, people do step over to pick up something more — another bite, some mustard, or like Bugs, a napkin. When people are at the buffet, they're away. Absences corrupt decisions.
We probably can't stop all lunch meetings. In some companies, lunch meetings are actual policy. But we can do a better job of managing lunch meetings.
- Give people more space
- If you're serving food, everyone needs a seat at the table, and everyone needs more table space. Get a bigger room.
- Split the meeting
- Set aside time to eat. At least 20 minutes. During eating time, don't conduct business. Let people socialize.
- Serve food that's easy to eat
- If some people won't have table space, serve non-drip food that everyone can eat one-handed. Finger food or sandwiches work best.
We interfere with our own breaks in other ways too — not just meetings. For instance, some of you are reading this while you eat lunch. I hope you found it relaxing, but next time, what can you do differently? Top Next Issue
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as or as . You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send 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.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness
- Become a Tugboat Captain
- If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.
- Double Your Downsizing Damage
- Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing. If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance of your company's downsizers.
- Email Antics: Part I
- Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas, in this Part I of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
- Decisions, Decisions: Part 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?
- 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.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Effective Meetings, Critical Thinking at Work and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 24: The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen? Available here and by RSS on December 24
- And on December 31: The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners. Available here and by RSS on December 31
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, 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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Human-Centered Risk Management
- Most of us can assess technological risks, but risks related to human behavior tend to resist our best efforts. This session provides a framework for evaluating risks related to the behavior of individuals, teams, organizations and people generally. Human-centered risk differs from technological or market risk, because objective evaluation requires acknowledging personal and organizational limitations and failures. Since some of those limitations and failures might apply to the people assessing the risks, or to their superiors, there's a tendency to deny them or to explain them away. Our approach examines capability, organization, context, risk mitigation, and workplace politics. It has tools for guiding the assessment and management of human-centered risk, and we show how to extend these tools to suit your situation. You'll learn how to identify sources of risk in human behavior; recognize systemic and individual barriers to acknowledging risk; assess the effects of organizational turbulence; determine the risk associated with inappropriate internal risk transfer; estimate the effects of team dysfunction, toxic conflict and turnover; and measure the impact of workplace politics. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: