Conference Crimes

By | April 24, 2014

This week, I ran into Justin. He’s a fellow-commuter who I see sporadically. Justin works for a Government department and is never one to hold back from sharing his wisdom with us. In return, we playfully mock his lavish holiday allowance and 9-to-5 attitude.

When I mentioned that I am going to a conference in Portugal in a few weeks, the following conversation ensued:

Justin: I find conferences [and meetings] boring and a waste of time. And when I see the organiser handing out a pen and Post-its, I know it’s going to be shit.

Me: Why is that?

Justin: I don’t want to hear what some idiot I work with has to say; I want to sit and listen to a presentation by someone worth listening to.

Me: But aren’t their views on the topic important? Don’t they sometimes add an alternative view? And don’t you have something worth contributing too?

Justin: Then, after we’ve discussed it for 30 minutes, we have to discuss it again as a group! Why? If we’ve already discussed it for 30 minutes, then why would I want to hear what others think? Our group will have done the subject to death by then.

Me: What if another group had a great solution to a problem you were also experiencing?

Justin: And then there’s always someone who likes the sound of his own voice, who goes on and on for ages …


Asleep in a meetingMy initial thought was that, although Justin thought of himself as a victim, he was actually part of the problem: he didn’t shut up or listen to anyone else. Although this may be true, a bit more digging into his experiences of group discussions (whether at conferences or in meetings) unearthed a recurring pattern: one that was full of poor facilitation.

In particular:

  • Some people are allowed to dominate the discussion, so others don’t get a chance to speak
  • No action points are generated in meetings

This has nothing to do with agile or lean, Scrum or Kanban, it is basic meeting facilitation skills. Without exception, everyone should be given the chance to speak, whether it’s a conference or meeting. And, although some gatherings (such as a Lean Coffee) might see only discussion, most meetings should also generate firm action points – with each action point assigned and a target date.

Let us not waste our valuable time.

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