The Meta-Meeting, and Other Horrors of Committee Service

Alternate title: Notes Toward a Taxonomy of Bad Meetings.

The Meta-Meeting: Your organization faces problems X, Y, and Z. Therefore, you are planning an all-day workshop on addressing X, Y, and Z. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: To have a meeting about how to organize the workshop to address X, Y, and Z, without talking about how to address X, Y, and Z.

The Required-By-Statute Meeting: Your organization needs to change the official written procedure for Process A, to match the way you have actually been doing Process A for the last N years. Everybody is happy with how Process A has been done for the last N years, and there is no significant opposition to the change. However, the rules of your organization state that written procedures can only be changed at an in-person meeting. Therefore, you must have a meeting.

The Should've-Been-an-Email Meeting: This one takes many forms: Your organization needs to do Activity B six months from now, so you have a meeting totell people that there will be planning meetings for Activity B three months down the road. Or your organization has recently conducted Assessment C, so you have a meeting at which people are given paper copies of Assessment C. And so forth.

The We-Have-the-Room-Booked-Already Meeting: On the day before a scheduled meeting, the person leading the meeting is still trying to find enough agenda items to justify having the meeting. But you have the meeting anyway.

What should be added to the list?


More like this

The Endless Meeting from Hell: it takes three or four hours to get through what should have been a one hour (or shorter) meeting. Often a further evolved state of the We-Have-the-Room-Booked-Already meeting.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 16 Sep 2009 #permalink

What's-The-Point Meeting

The organization faces problem X. A general meeting is called to address problem X. Unfortunately, the people directly affected by X, and the person with the power to authorize any proposed solution to X are all going to miss the meeting due to various reasons (travel, internal disagreement, other commitments).

Since it's scheduled the meeting is held anyway, but with no power over, knowledge of or interest in addressing problem X in any way. A good time to exchange gossip and catch up on your social networking sites.

The We Like to Hear Ourselves Speak Meeting:

The main (sometimes only) thing on the agenda is something which has upset some of the faculty, but about which they really can't do anything. The usual cast of characters express outrage for an hour or more. They all say essentially the same thing, but each feels the need to have his or her voice heard. I either skip the meeting or sit in back thinking about slitting my wrists.

Important Outsider Meeting
Someone important and highly peripheral to the regular meeting group, or completely outside the organization, is coming and we want to impress them. Let's have a special meeting!

Meeting As Public Battle In Private War
Management groups A and B have a disagreement about the best way to do something. A lengthy (at least half day, probably full-day) general meeting is held "to solicit ideas for how to fix the problem." Often, this meeting is facilitated in a particularly irritating way, with someone perky leading brain-storming exercises involving white boards.
However, both A and B have already firmly committed to their respective proposed solutions and the eventual plan will only incorporate A and B's ideas. This plan will arise out of their private negotiations, which will occur following the lengthy general meeting.

Management is about process not product. Do everything by the book, punctiliously document same, then ignore the sequelae (aside from subsequent interminable remedial meetings conducted by the same rules - establishing basis for your productivity bonus).

"And so you have thirteen tens,
And you take away seven,
And that leaves five...

Well, six actually.
But the idea is the important thing."
You can deny it but not avoid it.

I thought of another one:

The Improbable Contingency Meeting: a meeting devoted to dealing with determining a global policy for dealing with some ridiculously unlikely scenario in which the existing policy fails.

The "There Is This Thing Called 'E-Mail' You May Wish To Learn About" meeting: any meeting that consists of a fellow reading a PowerPoint document without Q&A or discussion of any sort.

By ColoRambler (not verified) on 16 Sep 2009 #permalink

The Team Building Meeting -- This is a meeting that is held because someone thinks there should be groups meetings so everyone can get together. The agenda is manufactured because all real information sharing occurs real time. In attempts to spice these deadly monthly meetings up outside speakers are often brought in to talk about things no one really cares about or could read in a memo. In large organizations or organizations with lots of turn over like interns these meetings also allow the hazing of the new person by making him or her do an intro speech.

By katydid13 (not verified) on 16 Sep 2009 #permalink

The 'Move on Already' meeting/presentation
A subset of Mr. Lund's Endless Meeting from Hell, this short meeting is stretched out to an eternity when a person or group decides to harp on a single subject ad nauseum.
Typically a scientific presentation that devolves into an endless back-and-forth about notation or a missing minus sign on slide 7.

Another variant on the Endless Meeting from Hell is the Mandatory Client Update Meeting, also known as the Micromanaging Meeting. I used to work for a company that made multimedia training programs for pharmaceutical sales reps, and I once worked on a project in which our entire project team (about 15 people, project manager, writers, editor, artists, animators, programmers, everybody, plus a VP because it was a big account) had a weekly 2-hour teleconference with the client's team (about 4 people) to discuss everything we had done in the last week. Which would have been OK if not for the many, many variations on the following:

Client: So, you know the animation on the splash page. We like it, but we think it moves a little slowly.
Project manager: OK, we can speed that up.
Client: You see where the circle comes in from the right, and sort of goes in a curve and gets bigger? Can that be faster?
Project manager: No problem.
Client: See, I'm on the splash page, and when you first start it, there's this animation, but right now it takes about 7 seconds, and that's a bit too long.
Project manager: Splash page animation is too slow. Got it.
(Repeat until the message is finally received, while the rest of the project team thinks longingly of all the stuff they could be getting done if they weren't sitting in this meeting. Then on to the next item. See what you miss out on in nice non-profit institutions?)

The I Can Read Faster Than You Can Power Point Meeting - at which a presenter with a long report puts the whole long report into a power point, or worse READS the thing to you. You did, or should have given it to me before the meeting, I CAN read, so bring a bullet chart and lets talk about it.

The I Made A Whole New Administrative Structure Without Discussing It Meeting - at which the subcommittee in charge of something presents a new plan, worked out to 9 decimal points, without asking the rest of the department if they were even on the right track. Of course if its Deans or somesuch than this should be called

The We're Doing This And Ignoring University Governance Because We Think We Can Get Away With It Meeting

I find that the I Can Read Faster Than You Can Power Point Meeting and the Team Building Meeting are often combined.

Is it bad that I taught the junior staff I'm supposed to be mentoring how to play buzzword bingo during these meetings?

By katydid13 (not verified) on 16 Sep 2009 #permalink

There is a series of training films about meetings in which John Cleese shows how to Do It Wrong. They are wirth watching even if you aren't making a taxonomy of meetings.

By Keith Harwood (not verified) on 16 Sep 2009 #permalink

The Justification Meeting: this is the meeting for a committee who have been formed to solve Problem X, but have neither the power nor the resources to do so, but because they are getting equivalency, have a meeting to explain that they, in fact, are meeting to do nothing.

By Melissa Brunin… (not verified) on 17 Sep 2009 #permalink

The Extraneous Attendees Meeting: in which it rapidly becomes apparent that only two people need to talk to each other, but everyone else is unable to walk away.

The This Is Not What The Meeting Is About Meeting

A periodic meeting - daily, weekly, whatever - that actually has some utility* consistently (as in every meeting, not just once every N times) devolves into discussions of employer shortcomings, political news, personal stories, or just about anything else.

The actual meeting content still takes a pretty short amount of time, but since that happens after the irrelevant discussion, the meetings take what seem like forever.

Potentially amusing, so maybe only the Meeting From Heck, but often frustrating.

*At least, back when the meetings started, they were useful.

By Wilson Fowlie (not verified) on 17 Sep 2009 #permalink

Kind of like Wilson's entry @16, is the Meeting We're Having Because We've Always Had It meeting. At some time in the murky past there was a project. It was important and the meetings were valuable. But the project morphed into something else, and we're really not doing it that way any more, but the original meeting organizer left the company and no one has stepped up to cancel it. These usually involve some version of, "What do you have this week?" "Nothing, really." "Great, well, see you next week!"

Also seconded the John Cleese series, which can be reviewed here.

Training In The Old Procedures Meeting

I sat through a half-day mandatory meeting that trained campus employees to perform emergency procedures that had been revised. They didn't teach the revised procedures. They already had the PowerPoint presentation for the old procedures, so they used it. It included the procedure for announcing fires: run down the hall yelling "Code red! Code red!" At the end of the meeting they handed out a pamphlet with the completely revised procedures, including how to activate the fire alarms.

The Make People Think They Are Involved Meeting.

This one breaks if people realize what it's really about. You have some sort of decision making committee that decides strategy for the department, or whatever. Everybody on the committee is supposed to represent some demographic. Their input is solicited, and everybody else nods as if they were thinking about it and seriously considering it even if the input is clearly something that's off the table. (Corollary: if you point out that the input is off the table, you will be reprimanded for being uncollegial.) Then, the actual decisions about strategy are done in informal one-off meetings and decisions between the Department Chair and the individuals with enough chutzpah to try and push things. Then, whether or not those strategy decisions have any impact on the future is entirely at the whim of the administration outside the department.

The meeting was thoroughly useless, except as a way to convince members of the faculty that they all have input into these future strategy things.