Nearly everyone I know complains that meetings are boring, time-wasting, maddening, or frustrating. Part of the problem is that we use meetings to engage in various forms of ritualized nonsense. There are dozens of these tactics and ploys, which I've been collecting over the years. Here's the first installment of a little catalog of the more common tactics. See "Games for Meetings: II," Point Lookout for February 19, 2003, for more.
- Here's a still-warm 20-page handout to read while we discuss this incredibly complex issue.
- People can't read something while they discuss it. When we distribute printed material "in support" of a presentation, we're actually undermining it, because we're asking people to do two things at once — listen and read. Most of us can't do that. Distribute supporting material far enough in advance to enable people to prepare for the meeting.
- Tree Slaughter
- Here's a 20-page handout that directly corresponds to my slides. File it, then let it age until recycled.
- One common excuse for this practice is that having in hand a printed version of the slides on the screen helps us make notes as the speaker goes along. If that's your reason, use "handout" format to decrease the page count and to reduce the damage to the world's forests.
- Let's see how many conversations we can have simultaneously and still believe we're accomplishing something.
- Sometimes, when sidebars erupt, the meeting chair lets them persist. Sidebars are distracting and reduce everyone's effectiveness. If you chair or facilitate a meeting, ask the speaker for a moment, and try something like, "Excuse me please. When I see multiple conversations going on, it seems to me that people aren't listening to the meeting. Phil has the floor right now." If the behavior is part of a pattern, deal with the "behavers" privately afterwards.
- I'm better than you are.
- This thesis is unprovable, except perhaps in the mind of the prover. When you find yourself doing this, breathe, then take a break if you can. When you feel that someone else is doing this, breathe, then take a break if you can.
- And I'm louder, too.
- The high-decibel version of "One-Up." Use the same approach for this as you would for a hurricane or typhoon: stay out of the way.
- Let's see who can speak a grammatically correct sentence consisting entirely of acronyms.
- Acronyms are often useful shorthand. Good acronyms eventually become words — "scuba," for example. But too often, we cross the line. We string letters together into unpronounceable chains, or we name components using artificial phrases that make "cute" acronyms. Use real words if you can, or coin something if necessary.
Do 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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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- 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.
- Annoyance to Asset
- Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another,
are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated.
Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from
a liability to a valuable asset.
- Teamwork Myths: Formation
- Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths.
In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
- Bottlenecks: II
- When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization
to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.
- Holding Back: I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget
problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 18: Missing the Obvious: II
- With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on October 18.
- And on October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
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