Meeting protocols

Given my interest in collaboration, I often enjoy hearing people’s stories about their workplace. My friend Ann was telling me about a clever colleague who is concerned about making the best use of meeting time. Much like the Dave Chapelle comedy skit in which he has an Oscar award-like “wrap it up” box that plays music to signal time is up, her colleague distributed signs to the meeting participants. (Also reminding me of buzzword bingo.) The signs, with Ann’s annotations, are as follows:

  • Sold (“You’ve convinced us, let’s move on.”)
  • Out of Scope (“No way will we get to work on this, so let’s not talk about it.”)
  • Too Much Detail (“You’re in the weeds.”)
  • Off Topic (“Shut up.”)

I expect this also has the potential to offend, but when I asked, Ann said that the signs were well received. When I worked at the W3C we used the IRC channel in a similar way sometimes. However, given that I am somewhat suspect of laptops at meetings, I am quite intrigued by this meat-space protocol.

Why, do you ask, am I suspect of laptops at meetings? I am sympathetic to the philosophy that if you are going to give your time to something, give it your full attention, or do something else. I know this is quite counter to the multi-tasking culture we are enmeshed in now, but I think it is effective. At the W3C, I don’t think computer usage was an issue because we made effective use of our technological tools, and there is a culture, and set of personalities, that permitted people to say, quite brashly, is this discussion the best use of our time, what is the next agenda item, etc.?

Similarly, on the BBC version of The Office, when the petty and officious Gareth Keenan insists that Tim cannot raise an issue because it was not placed on the agenda, I was sympathetic – evidence of what I jokingly refer to as my fascist-like tendencies in group dynamics. I have found a good way to encourage a useful meeting is to ensure that people are somewhat prepared and that the facilitator has a good sense of the issues at hand and how much time they will likely take to resolve.

What other interesting, funny, or effective folk meeting protocols are out there?

Ported/Archived Responses

Joseph Reagle on 2010-09-17

Ah… much like the “back burner”!

Jonathan Opp on 2010-09-16

Great post! One of the meeting protocols I’ve seen that always makes me laugh is the “parking lot.” When someone has an idea or raises an issue that no one wants to deal with, or is perhaps off-topic, the facilitator writes the idea on a dedicated whiteboard space under the heading “parking lot.” It’s meant to put ideas aside for later, but everyone knows what it really means…

It means that not only has your idea gone to the place where ideas go to die, but you get to stare at it for the rest of the meeting as a shameful reminder and warning to others that you should have kept your mouth shut.

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