Many of you out there in the corporate world are familiar with the part of your day where all work stops, the day comes to a screeching halt, and a group of people decide to sit at a table and talk. There is nothing like this in nature. You’ll never see a group of lions or ducks where one of them says “Hey I have a great idea. Instead of finding food and defending ourselves, let’s sit in a circle for an hour and talk about stuff. Afterwards we could send out meeting notes that we’ll never read again.”
If these disruptions of productivity aren’t already the least valuable thing you can collectively do, some people take them a step further with major fouls. I present to you:
The Top Ten Meeting Fouls
(Note: I have witnessed or committed each of these.)
The False Start
This occurs when a critical meeting attendee isn’t there on time. After a long period of waiting the meeting eventually starts, but the person finally appears, requiring everything discussed so far to be repeated. It makes you want to climb over the table and choke them, but it’s usually somebody of relative importance. Your best bet is to just mentally choke them.
The Watering Hole
People who need signatures on documents or need to find department heads can sometimes be found circling around the entrance to a meeting – the same way hungry hyenas will scout watering holes looking for zebras to eat. If these offenders delay the start of your meeting, it is perfectly acceptable to shoo them off with a stick.
The first opportunity you get to obtain information that isn’t available in the room, you volunteer to get it and bolt out of the room. “Oh, I have that data on my desk! I’ll go get it.” You don’t look back under any circumstance. Even when it seems as though you’ve broken the tractor-beam and gotten free, don’t yell WoobWoobWoob! like Curly Stooge. That’s a rookie mistake right there. The conversation will inevitably change to other topics and you will be long forgotten. If asked later about your disappearance, this reply works: “Well you probably don’t want to hear specifics, but let’s just say chili wasn’t a good breakfast choice.”
This person has too much on their plate. They come into the meeting armed with two laptops, piles of other work to do, eating a three course lunch, paying some bills from home, clipping their toenails, maybe even whipping out some crocheting while everyone else is participating. A sure sign that your meeting was not in their top ten priorities is that when the meeting is over, they are so busy continuing their other activities that they don’t even notice everyone else leaving.
A meeting takes place but no handouts are presented and no notes are taken. Weeks later, nobody can remember any decisions that were made, or who was there exactly. There’s only carry a vague reckoning that the meeting took place at all. When all is said and done, the participants would have been more productive replacing light bulbs.
This is where someone attends the meeting, doesn’t say a word, doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t share an opinion or take an action item, and then leaves in silence. They were basically there to keep a chair warm with their buttocks.
The Class Clown
Meetings have different purposes, but this character sees your meeting as a stage for performing comedy bits. I once scooted slowly next to the person on my right for a whole hour, trying to see how far I could make him subconsciously move over in small little segments without getting noticed. I managed to move him six feet, all the way around the far round end of the table. I pointed it out, and at the next meeting we were in he tried to climb over into my chair with me.
Many times a topic emerges that captures the full attention of two meeting participants, but not the whole group. Rather than bog down everyone else, they are usually invited to take that topic to a later time – this is called a Breakout Meeting. However, in some cases the two offenders get so excited about their topic that they’ll derail the whole meeting and do their private meeting right there in front of everyone. That’s a Break-in. The appropriate response to this is “Hey lovebirds, you two get a room.”
Sometimes it’s necessary for a meeting participant to check his or her phone for a quick message or work email. However, if taken to the extreme, some meeting participants occasionally completely detached from their meeting, enthralled with whatever is going on in their little device (streaming videos, playing interactive games, laughing out loud, taking selfies, or texting funny pictures to other meeting participants). The best way to tackle this is to redirect the whole group to hear that person’s thought on the topic of discussion, and then watch them squirm to pretend like they were paying attention.
This is where someone needs some group attention for a topic, but don’t want to call their own meeting, so they sneak intoyour meeting and use their turn to talk about something completely different. If well-executed with the art of meeting-stealth, they’ll hijack your meeting and the participants won’t even realize how far off-topic they are.