Organizational culture is the set of attitudes, values, norms, and beliefs widely held by members of the organization. The elements of culture need not be self-consistent, but they affect the organization's goals, strategies, and structure, and its approaches to setting and achieving its objectives. The people of the organization need not be aware of every cultural element, nor is their behavior always consistent with the culture.
Culture can contribute to troubles in meetings. For example, if harmony is highly valued, people try to please — and avoid displeasing — each other. These tendencies can elevate the chances of taking a Trip to Abilene, which happens when everyone in a group agrees to a proposal that nobody actually wants, because they all believe that everyone else favors it.
Here are three examples of meeting troubles that have cultural causes.
- Insufficient facilities
- Organizations can sometimes be shortsighted about cost control. They invest too little in meeting facilities, especially those for virtual teams, which have expensive requirements. Scarcity of adequate facilities causes teams to claim time slots in advance of known needs. Once they claim a time slot, they feel obliged to meet, and to use the entire slot. This sense of pressure to meet can lead to a waste of everyone's time. If teams cannot secure the facilities they need, they meet in settings unsuited to the task — for example, an audio-only virtual workspace to conduct discussions that actually need an electronic whiteboard. When such mismatches occur, groups tend not to account for the shortcomings of the meeting setting. Meetings run overtime and output quality suffers.
- Reducing facilities Cultures that value teamwork
sometimes confuse working
together with getting togetherexpense is often the most expensive strategy, if we account for the cost of the resulting delays and bad decisions.
- Serial submeetings
- Cultures that value teamwork sometimes confuse working together with getting together. Often, a team meets as one, when meeting as subteams would be more effective. One indicator of this pattern is a meeting consisting of serial submeetings — a sequence of discussions in which few people are involved or qualified to contribute. Each subteam takes its turn, while everyone else looks on.
- For increased effectiveness, the team could have the subteams meet in parallel or at times they choose, reporting afterwards to the whole any issues or surprises. This creates free time for the team to assemble to address shared issues, or to connect socially.
- Ritualized standups
- Standup meetings are increasingly popular, especially in organizations that value Agile processes. Standups are supposedly shorter because of the discomfort of standing. But they don't help at all unless the content of the meeting is suited to that form, which works best for quick check-ins, for a total of at most 15 minutes.
- Extended discussion of complex issues still requires chairs, a table, and maybe other equipment — like a notepad or a laptop and projector. Use a standup only when it fits the agenda.
You've probably seen other examples of cultural causes of meeting troubles. Send them along and I'll include them in a future installment of this growing collection. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- 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.
- Figuring Out What to Do First
- Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly
unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where
to focus our attention first?
- When Power Attends the Meeting
- When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost
inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting
in on the meetings of your subordinates.
- Misleading Vividness
- Group decision-making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid
examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
- On Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
- Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that
dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are
the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
- And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.