When we complain that meetings are boring, time-wasting, maddening, or frustrating, it might help to check first about the roles we play ourselves. There are dozens of tactics and ploys, which I've been collecting over the years. Here's the third installment of a little catalog of the more common ones. See "Games for Meetings: II," Point Lookout for February 19, 2003, and "Games for Meetings: IV," Point Lookout for April 16, 2003, for more.
- Rewriting History
- Let's recast this enterprise-scale disaster into a near-miraculous feat of strategic planning.
- When we all want to see things from a particular perspective, we sometimes re-enforce each other. We support each other in denying the obvious. And smart people are especially vulnerable, because they can create more elaborately plausible pseudo-explanations. If your team has these tendencies, invite one or two observers. Their mere presence can be a deterrent.
- Piling On
- Someone is declared "it," and many of us attack. Much more interesting if designee is actually present.
- When several people attack another, they can cause permanent damage to the team, because afterwards, everyone knows that anyone can be a target. When an attack occurs, the chair is in the best position to intervene immediately to end it, adjourning the meeting if necessary, to deal privately with the problem of piling on. If you're present when an attack occurs, and the chair doesn't intervene, either raise the issue, or object, or excuse yourself from the room.
- I'm Finally Here
- I always arrive late, proving my importance.
- Late arrivals, at best, disrupt the flow of the meeting, and might even delay its start. Tolerating this pattern is an expensive habit. If many people are often late, it's possible that everyone is overloaded, or that the pattern is so well-established that it doesn't pay to arrive on time. Whatever the case, this problem is one that management is best able to address.
- I'm Rarely Here
- I'm too important for this, but please schedule these meetings to fit my downtime in case I can make it.
- Making allowances for someone who rarely shows up degrades the importance of the effort and demoralizes the team. Schedule the meeting for the convenience of the people who attend it.
- Approving the Minutes
- We always approve the minutes, no matter what they don't say.
- Minutes are useful as records of what was decided and why. An organization in which people are afraid to write down this information eventually pays a high price — it cannot learn from its mistakes.
- Cellular Escape
- Have someone (or some device) page you.
- Tricky, tricky. This one used to work, maybe in 1999. No longer — now people who excuse themselves this way have been heard to exclaim, "It's real! Honest!"
Which of these do you do? Which can you stop doing? What can you do instead? Keep track of what you see in your meetings, and talk about their costs. More coming in future issues — send me descriptions of your more delightful discoveries. Top Next Issue
For more on telephonic deceptions, see "Telephonic Deceptions: I," Point Lookout for September 14, 2011.
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:
- Pygmalion Side Effects: Bowling a Strike
- Elise slowly walked back to her office, beaten. Her supervisor, Alton, had just given Elise her performance
review — her third consecutive "meets expectations." No point now to her strategy of
giving 120% to turn it all around. She is living a part of the Pygmalion Effect, and she's about to
experience the Pygmalion Side Effects.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- Heart with Mind
- We say people have "heart" when they continue to pursue a goal despite obstacles that would
discourage almost everyone. We say that people are stubborn when they continue to pursue a goal that
we regard as unachievable. What are our choices when achieving the goal is difficult?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And on November 1: Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.
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