Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 9;   March 2, 2005: Working Lunches

Working Lunches

by

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.

A sandwich piled high

A sandwich. Courtesy California 5-a-Day Campaign.

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
nor lunch
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? Go to top Top  Next issue: Planning Your Getaway  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe 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 an individual or as an organization. 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? rbrenSQxzlFwtFOaEfEQOner@ChacSMiidmhLzRpBBTymoCanyon.comSend 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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A page from the Bradford JournalWorking Journals
Keeping a journal about your work can change how you work. You can record why you did what you did, and why you didn't do what you didn't. You can record what you saw and what you only thought you saw. And when you read the older entries, you can see patterns you might never have noticed any other way.
Three adult male chimpanzees during a grooming sessionFavors, Payback, and Thoughtlessness
Someone at work who isn't particularly a friend or foe has asked you for a favor. What happens if you say no? Do you grant the favor? How do you decide what to do?
American dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium americanum)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.
The Japanese battleship Yamato during machinery trials 20 October 1941The Focusing Illusion in Organizations
The judgments we make at work, like the judgments we make elsewhere in life, are subject to human fallibility in the form of cognitive biases. One of these is the Focusing Illusion. Here are some examples to watch for.
Arrival of Cortés in Vera CruzWacky Words of Wisdom: II
Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules. And that's where the trouble begins. We remember them too easily and we apply them too liberally. Here's Part II of a collection of often-misapplied words of wisdom.

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

Raquel Welch (left) and Gilda Radner (right) from a @Cite{Saturday Night Live rehearsal, April 24, 1976Coming December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
An engineer attending a meeting with 14 other engineersAnd on December 27: On Assigning Responsibility for Creating Trouble
When we assign responsibility for troubles that bedevil us, we often make mistakes. We can be misled by language, stereotypes, and the assumptions we make about others. Available here and by RSS on December 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmPsuJCFjbubekKPHner@ChacKJwxjAERcHosPgMSoCanyon.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

Public seminars

Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.