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January 2, 2008 Volume 8, Issue 1
 
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Our Last Meeting Together

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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.

Wandering down the rabbit hole, or two people dueling, or problem-solving an issue that isn't ours to solve, are just three of the countless methods for converting productive meetings into frustrating time sinks. As meeting attendees, we can take more responsibility — and be more accountable — for meeting effectiveness. Here are some tips and insights for meeting attendees.

The rabbit that went down the rabbit-hole

The rabbit that went down the rabbit-hole. A colorized illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, from the original illustration by John Tenniel. The title of Chapter 1 of the book is "Down the Rabbit-Hole" and the illustration is from the first page. The phrase itself has been used metaphorically in many different contexts, but in describing group behavior in meetings, it refers to the phenomenon of straying from the immediate topic at hand, and entering into a prolonged discussion, often leading nowhere. Online editions of Alice are available at various Web sites, but this illustration is from the edition at www.gasl.org.

Prepare
Know what you're supposed to know. Don't fake it. If you aren't prepared, tell the chair in advance, privately, to enable agenda adjustment.
Arrive on time
If you know you'll be late, tell the chair. If you don't know in advance, phone or text someone. Don't make the others wait.
Leave space for your teammates
Unless you have specialized knowledge, you probably aren't the only one thinking whatever you're thinking. Let others contribute that thought. Offer it yourself only if nobody else does.
Ask rather than assert
Some of the most valuable contributions are questions. A good question can keep a group from making a serious mistake.
Identify rabbit holes and solution-monging
If you think the group might be lost down a rabbit-hole, or if they might be lost solving a problem they don't even own, say so. They're depending on you.
Stay on topic
Don't derail a productive discussion. If you have something that's off topic, save it for later. It might fit in another agenda item, or another meeting.
Abide by a three-exchange limit
If you get into a back-and-forth with someone, after you've "returned the ball" three times, stop. Everyone else probably tuned out after the second return.
Don't repeat yourself or anyone else
If something's been said once, that's enough. Repetition isn't persuasion.
Respect the chair
If something's been said
once, that's enough.
Repetition isn't persuasion.
The chair (or the chair's designee) owns the process. The chair determines who speaks, in what order, and for how long. The chair determines what goes in the parking lot and what doesn't. If you disagree, invoke a "process check."
Suggesting the best way probably won't help
Contributions of the form "I believe this way is best" are almost worthless. Rarely is there one best way.
Not speaking is extremely helpful
If you're talking, you're keeping things open. Speak only if you think your contribution will significantly enhance the result or the process.
Discussing the discussion is expensive
Adjusting the order of topics might help, but discussing the discussion is an expense, too. The net value added by discussing the discussion is marginal at best.

Most important, approach every meeting as if it were your last meeting together. Pretend that you're leaving the company. Make this next meeting a good one and make sure we all part friends. If you take every meeting one at a time with that point of view, things will probably get better — or as good as you can make them. Go to top  Top  Next issue: Towards More Gracious Disagreement  Next Issue
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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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