Some meetings are destined to fail. Others need a little help to be a disaster. In our blog post on Three Types of Effective Meetings , we discussed three different ways to hold a great meeting. In this post, I am not going to discuss how to increase productivity in the workplace. Rather, I am going to share with you a few ways you can sabotage a meeting before it has begun.
1: Bring Your Taffy
I recently ran a meeting with a group of executives I had not met with before. The majority of the group had arrived early and I thought this was a good sign. As I was talking with a few employees, I noticed an executive enter the room with a huge, one gallon bucket of Laffy Taffy and a small empty tub. Out of curiosity, I leaned over to one of the employees I knew fairly well and inquired about the sight I was seeing. It was explained to me that this employee (let's call him Tom) always brought his taffy to meetings. Another person immediately chimed in and excitedly explained that Tom would usually create "pieces of art" during meetings. They both agreed that this was normal and actually quite entertaining for the group.
Sure enough, Tom dug into the taffy even before the meeting began. Some of it went directly into his mouth, while other pieces were "worked out" and stretched into taffy art. I soon discovered that the extra tub Tom had carried in was for all of the wrappers he would go through. It was quite a scene.
I found this to be one of the hardest meetings I had run in some time. Everyone was distracted by Tom. They would make "art requests" and constantly observe him. Tom rarely looked up from his taffy, and if I had ever called on him, he wouldn't have been able to say a word - his mouth was stuck shut with a ball of taffy.
SABOTAGE TIP: Plan to do something completely irrelevant to the meeting. The more distracting it is the better. Taffy works extremely well; it allows you to be creative and locks your mouth shut at the same time.
2: Take Personal Calls
One of my favorite sabotaged meeting stories comes from a case where bank examiners were having an exit meeting with the executive team of the bank they just reviewed. Bankers are always on edge during examinations and the exit meeting is the meeting where the examiners go over their findings.
During this particular meeting, there were three examiners working together to discuss the issues their agency had discovered during their review. The bank had a half dozen executives in the room, including the President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board.
In the middle of the meeting, the mobile phone of one of the examiners rang. Everyone was initially forgiving as they expected this to be an accident that would be corrected by ignoring the call and turning the phone off. The examiner, however, did the unexpected. He took the call. Not only did he take the call without excusing himself, he almost instantly began yelling and swearing at the person on the other end. It was his wife.
The bank employees were shocked. The other two examiners actually tried to continue on with the meeting until the swearing became so bad that they finally asked him politely to step outside.
SABOTAGE TIP: Develop a culture where your employees understand that family comes first - no matter what. Tolerate as much as you can, but do your best to not interrupt personal calls. Even if swearing is involved.
3. Practice Soft Edges
Hard edges in a meeting means that you start on time, finish on time, and achieve an objective. Having soft edges means just the opposite. I was in a meeting a number of years ago in an organization that practiced soft edges. All of their meetings were run this way and I was shocked by the amount of executive time that was being wasted. (Most of the meetings involved executives, who were the company's highest paid employees. So wasted time was wasted money. )
In this particular meeting, the presenter started about seven minutes late, which was a bit later than usual, but not uncommon. Since the meeting hadn't started on time, a few people had stepped out of the room to make phone calls or hit the restroom before it began. As the meeting began, the presenter had to stall for a few minutes as these stragglers came into the room. Once they were all seated, the presenter quickly moved into the meat of the presentation.
About fifteen minutes into the meeting (twenty five minutes after the planned start time), the Chief Operating Officer (COO) finally came into the room. The presenter was at a very important point in her presentation and this late arrival obviously disrupted her flow. Finally, the COO apologized for being late and asked what he had missed. The presenter then took about seven minutes to back up and re-explain the material the rest of the group had just heard. During this time, the other attendees (who had just heard everything that was being discussed) took out their phones and began to check e-mail. One person even stepped into the hall to make a call.
Once the COO was brought up-to speed, the presenter moved on. As soon as this happened, the COO started to take out his lunch and eat. He then realized that his to-go food did not have a knife, so he got up, walked to the back of the room to get one, and sat back down. As he did this and even while he ate, all eyes were on him. The meeting ended over forty-five minutes late and three people (including the COO) left early, before the final pitch was made.
SABOTAGE TIP: Allow soft boundaries. Don't even think about starting or ending on time. Encourage the senior leaders of your organization to arrive late and insist that the presenter back-up for them. Also, if the meeting is not a luncheon, have a few employees bring their lunches in and plan to make a scene (i.e. spilling their drink or choking on their food).
By now, I am sure you see the sarcasm in this post. The unfortunate thing is that each of these stories are examples of real sabotaged meetings. While meetings can be successful with proper planning and execution (see my post on Three Types of Effective Meetings ), there are far to many sabotaged meetings in organizations today.
The following is a slide summary of this post for easy sharing.
How have meetings been sabotaged during your career?