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Monday, September 8, 2014


One of the prominent features of bureaucratic inertia and disfunction is the slow, painful, excruciating process of having meetings that are not well-conceived, conducted without focus, and ambiguous in purpose.  

"Death by meeting" has become a fairly common phrase heard around the water cooler in organizations of all shapes and sizes.

A couple of historical analogies come to mind: the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in 1942 and the Trail of Tears  in America in the 1830s.  In the Bataan Death March the Japanese military force-marched 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war through a grueling 60 mile trek, subjecting them to exposure, lack of nutrition, disease, and brutal mistreatment.  In the Trail of Tears numerous Native American tribes were relocated from their historical homes all over the United States to designated reservations (almost always onto lands that were not nearly as fruitful or fertile as their homelands).

While I don't at all desire to suggest that dysfunctional meetings are anywhere near the level of degradation and/or depredation as those two historical forced marches, I would like to conjure the image as a relevant analogy.

As an organizational leader of many years I am guilty as the next "chair" of presiding over painful, non-fruitful, excruciating meetings.  I believe I/we can do better by crafting and managing meetings with some of these strategic features:

  • Make agendas available to all ahead of the meeting
  • Keep agendas tight, and relevant to the work at hand
  • Clearly indicate decisions to be made
  • Allow all players to participate, but not bird walk
  • Require opinion givers to defend/support their position in relation to the objectives
  • Honor all informed opinions/contributions (but quickly cut off the uninformed or unprepared ones)
  • Start and stop on time
  • Be clear and specific about action steps and follow-up benchmarks
It's a tricky business, be we can do this...

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