We are all victims of far too many unnecessary and meaningless meetings.
While managers always complain about this scourge of corporate life, they are themselves commonly the reason for bad meeting behaviour. Rising through the corporate ranks sometimes appears to be a license for engaging in and promoting such disruptive, unproductive, and costly behaviour.
Too often, when left to their own devices, many executives and managers get sidetracked discussing and chasing issues that may be important but are peripheral to the immediate problem at hand for which the meeting had been convened. As a result, they waste a lot of time and energy at a very real opportunity cost, and get frustrated that they are not able to work through issues to reach conclusions, make a decision, and leave the meeting with an agreed upon action plan with assigned tasks, in the spirit of a high-performing team.
This dysfunctional meeting behaviour is completely controllable. That managers seem unwilling to take control creates opportunities for professional organizations such as ours to deliver real value to executives by taking the pain and suffering out of collaborative decision-making meetings that absent of imposed control seem to drag on into multiple sessions and never get resolved.
When executives or managers come together, they should each bring the expertise they have about the business into play, in a controlled and professional manner. Every meeting must begin with a statement of purpose and an expected outcome. If the purpose is to solve a problem, then as a general rule a defined process should be followed in which the problem is defined, the reasons for the problem and the constraints are identified, and solutions are developed to solve the problem. If a decision can’t be made, next steps need to be identified, and the group should reconvene with the information required to move the identification of a solution forward.
It seems obvious that without an effective process to achieve a meeting’s statement of purpose, it would be better for all that there should be no meeting. Perhaps another methodology is more appropriate to move the issue forward.
Unproductive meeting processes and behaviours are so common that they have become ubiquitous. One could speculate that if corporations made an active effort to weed out and eliminate these invasive habits and commit to more effective meeting protocol, meeting effectiveness would increase by at least 50%, and corporate effectiveness by five to ten percent.
I’ve attended hundreds of workshops and management meetings over the past 20 years as a consultant to senior decision-makers at companies large and small and across a range of industries. In our capacity as strategic advisors and workshop facilitators, we are hired to bring methodology and process to teams of executives to help them resolve issues and arrive at solutions in an efficient and effective manner.
Sometimes it is appropriate to have an objective outside facilitator to help plan and conduct and important meeting. At other times outside facilitators are called because managers recognize that their people are unwilling or unable to work together and cooperate to solve a business problem together and move forward. When this is the case, there are usually more challenging underlying power and trust issues at play, the symptoms of which are displayed in ineffective meetings, where people are forced into conflict and unable to embrace cooperation.
At other times, poor meeting behaviour is simply a function of an absence of good meeting process and protocol.
In no particular order, based on what I’ve observed over the years, here is my list of very common and highly disruptive meeting/workshop behaviours.
- Interrupting others before they finish talking
- Completing the thoughts of others on their behalf
- Agreeing with the previous speaker and then disagreeing (I agree with John, but…)
- Changing the topic before closure is reached on the previous topic, and related, not taking the opportunity to reach closure before moving to the next agenda item
- Creating confusion by moving from the issues being addressed to discussing the processes of the meeting itself
- Giving meaningless speeches or speaking without purpose
- Providing answers that have nothing to do with the question asked
- Letting people get away with bullshit when asked for clarification
- Reinterpreting what others have said in a way that supports your viewpoint and distorts other points of view
- Expressing your viewpoint by providing an example as a substitute for a clear explanation (“let me give you an example”).
As a fun exercise, you may want to bring this list to your next meeting and see how many of these disruptive behaviours you observe. In addition, pay attention to your own bad behaviour and put an end to it.
Here is a fun video that captures much of the essence of bad workshop behavior.
Here’s another that speaks to the problem of Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work by Jason Fried, author of Rework and Remote: Office Not Required. He speaks about meetings around the nine-minute mark.
Barry Linetsky is a Partner with The Strategic Planning Group (www.TSPG-Consulting.com), a Toronto-based consultancy. He is the author of The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press, 2017) and Free Will: Sam Harris Has It (Wrong). His articles have been published by Ivey Business Journal and Rotman Magazine. Visit his website www.BarryLinetsky.com to find original articles and blog posts on Walt Disney and other business management topics. Follow Barry on Twitter @BizPhilosopher and on LinkedIn.
© 2017, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved