Thursday, September 17, 2009


Bad Meetings

Chad Orzel has posted a wonderful list of Varieties of Bad Meetings. Having spent some time (cough) in bad meetings over the years, I have a few genres of awful to add.

The Take-the-Proxy-Issue-At-Face-Value Meeting

"Okay, so we've settled that the few cases of actually exceeding course caps were due to a system glitch, and that's been fixed. We're good?" "Grrrrr."

The Guess-What-I'm-Thinking Meeting, and its cousin, The Validate the Preordained Conclusion Meeting

"Let's hear your ideas. Well, not that one. Or that one. Or that. Hey, I've got one!"

The Jockey for Position Meeting and its cousins, The Follow the Bouncing Blame Meeting and The Look At Me! Meeting

"And my incredibly wonderful project would have worked if Steve hadn't dropped the ball."

The Let's Define Words Differently Meeting

Common floating signifiers include assessment, integrity, diversity, transparency, affirmative action, budget, and horse's ass

The Let Me Play Out Longstanding Childhood Trauma Meeting

"The Administration always liked them best."

The Meandering Discussion of a Settled Question Meeting and its cousin, The Lost Golden Age Meeting

"Ever since that reorg in '96, things just haven't been the same..."

The How Many Words I Can Fit on a PowerPoint Slide? Meeting

"You might not be able to see these from the back of the room, so I'll read them to you..."

The Bonding Exercise Meeting

"Let's start with an icebreaker!" Or, shoot me in the face. Either way is good.

The Kabuki Meeting

Everyone plays an assigned role. The hothead, the avuncular skeptic, the bitter skeptic, the idealist, the gritty realist, the crusader, the victim, etc.

The Unified Field Theory Meeting

"And that ties into...which ties into what you said's all connected!"

Wise and worldly readers, what unique species of walking death have you seen?

The Soap Opera.
"Hey, everybody, let's put out free coffee and donuts. Then, we'll sit around and quietly watch the not-really-veiled alpha male sexist and the confrontational feminist argue for an hour. We'll try to get to the issues at the meeting next week."
There's the "I want a pony but all I can afford is a hamster," meeting (may be unique to the communications and marketing fundtion).
This post and comments thread may be of interest.

My department particularly enjoys the "A special committee already worked for weeks on this issue but it's important to be democratic so let's all second-guess their report and findings" meeting.
We recently spent almost 45 minutes discussing the difference between a GOAL and an OBJECTIVE. Such a productive use of my time.
What the hell is a proxy issue? And if somebody believes that the meeting is about what everybody says the meeting is about, how is it their fault if everybody else is hiding the ball?
there is a sincere difference between quotes and estimates... and problems, concerns, challenges are actually to be referred to as opportunities.
My department particularly enjoys the "A special committee already worked for weeks on this issue but it's important to be democratic so let's all second-guess their report and findings" meeting.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I sat in one of the meetings Rohan described. I would be long retired.

Of course, there is the variation on that theme in the, "Let's all agree to specifically charge a special committee with decision-making authority on this issue and then criticize them for making decisions" meeting
The Sword of Damocles meeting:

"Informative" meetings that provide only dire budget descriptions (yes, we know) without any information about actual decisions that are in progress.
The non-information information meeting.

Something might happen. It could be dire, or not. We're not sure when it will happen and/or whom it will ultimately affect. The constraints and rules around the change this will entail are unclear but we know they will be broad - or perhaps not. But you've been informed so we expect you to play along with anything that happens and not be surprised. As far as we can determin here will be no additional resources associated with completing the tasks that may or may not be required by this change which will happen at a future but undetermined time - but that could alter with our rapidly changing conditions.
I always think about this insightful article when the topic of meetings comes up.

But I really like article linked from the third comment up above. To some extent, the worst meetings are enabled by the participants as well as the leader, probably because most of us only had experience with badly run meetings.
Would meetings go better if this inspired poster was required to be on the wall of every conference room?
Ivory's post sounds like all the meetings going on regarding coping with the H1N1 pandemic, especially the part about there being no budget to deal with any contingency plans.
Someone referred me here after I posted a tiny rant about a meeting. LOVED your list and am feeling much better now. :)
Blizzard of Bureaucracy meeting: Spend an hour rapidly reviewing an inch-high stack of forms and policies, all written in managerial jargon. At the end of the hour, you are now responsible for complying with all of the regulations as written, even if some of them are dangerous, mutually contradictory, or physically impossible.

We got a lot of these last year, but the administrator in question has improved considerably since. I am deeply relieved.
Here's another one--the "beat assessment to death" meeting. At my school, most of our meetings are about assessment. Everyone seems to want to reinvent the wheel and tweak how assessment is done. These meetings are so deadly that most people don't bother to show up. As soon as I see that the meeting is going to be about assessment, I start thinking up excuses for why I can't attend.
How about the We All Know What We Mean, Let's Just 'Wordsmith' The Language A Little meeting.

Happened all the time during union negotiations, and the head wordsmither for management never understood why the actual words took so long and why we fought him so vehemently to get words into the contract that actually meant something.
Let's spend 55 minutes ruminating deeply about a top-down decision that has already occurred and over which we have absolutely zero influence, and 5 minutes superficially giving lip service to a critical decision that we need to make ourselves RIGHT NOW.
The monthly Groundhog Day meeting
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