Meeting For Fixing Meeting

Some people are perpetually in the meetings. When you try to get hold of them the gloom laden words receive you, ‘he is in the meeting, I can not disturb him’. Or the pompous ‘he is in the conference’. This can mean almost anything. Either he is nattering with his secretary or some one else’s secretary on another line, in with the boss, apple polishing him or a party, haggling over with him for an under the table deal, gone for lunch, not back from lunch, gone to take a quick nap after lunch, gone for the day and trying out his water wings in the office think-tank. People differ in their motives for attending meetings/conferences. While for some it may be escapism, selling, buying, apple polishing, back biting and gossips, for others it can be to look for a client, keep an eye on a client, look for a job, look for some one to fill a job or plain honest to-goodness, self aggrandizement and all that jazz. After all the theme of a convenient and plausible matrix, is to act out personal needs and fantasies.

People who do not want to get involved and hate doing anything conferences and meetings are the most effective devices to avoid decision. Frequently used for the purpose, committee is the cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled. It is an arrangement whereby a large number of people gather together, some to say what they really do not think, some not to say what they really do. The committee is synonym of a group of men/women who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done. A committee could consist of three men, two of whom are absent; the ideal committee however is a committee of one. A meeting is success when it reaches an agreement or decides the date and venue to discuss the decision that was taken in the preceding meeting about the next meeting. For the successful meetings and conferences are an end in themselves rather than a means to end, ‘we are therefore we meet or we meet we are therefore’.

On an average 50% of business travelers are on their way to some kind of conferences. If you take meetings into account then the figure doubles to 100%—especially for top management/bureaucracy. While conferences are a way of wasting everybody’s time away from the office and form an integral part of the management by absence, meetings are a great way of wasting other peoples’ time when in the office (management by pre-emption). I remember when I was the student at the IIFT (Indian Institute of Foreign Trade) conferences/meetings held under the banner of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) would be ridiculed in the campus as ‘under no circumstances take a decision’. In the leviathan of our government where bureaucracy is the difficulty for every solution the day to day working is infested with logjams, snarl ups and red tape.

In the public space, given the differences between and within the various departments, unpredictability about which one will report to and the absence of tangible personal reward there is deep culture of risk aversion. To protect their turf and to thrive in the government with out rocking the boat, the officialdom invariably makes use of devices to avoid decisions….if you can avoid it do not take it. Techniques applied vary from ‘posing too busy’, ‘going on leave’, ‘putting the problem at the bottom of the pending pile’, ‘going on tour’ and if all these fail then to ‘falling sick’.

Widely patronized by government authorities this method is extremely useful for decision-avoiding…..pass off the responsibility of making the decision to someone else; do not make decisions by yourself, but bring in someone to blame if things go wrong. As the very act of appointing committees will effectively ensure decision avoiding, a successful public servant assures himself doubly of the results in his favour. He would make the committee as large as possible. A committee of three may suddenly get to a decision. The possibility is greatly alleviated if the membership is increased to nine. Research has revealed the mathematical rule (known as the fourth decision-rule) that the possibility of avoiding decision increases in proportion to the square of the number of members in the committee. Committees with membership of thirty and above rarely reach any significant decision (e.g. National Integration Council). Alternately the boss ensures that the committee meeting is made difficult. This is done by appointing a sick chairman and members geographically as distant as possible.

In recent times however the geographical distance is no longer a deterrent as the distances have been shortened by the video conferencing and internet. When he is on to make committee incompatible, he will ensure that there are at least two members of the committee with a previous record of proved hostility or at least with a dominating attitude. It is sure that others will develop hostility as the committee work proceeds. The appointment of bete noire, the fellow with the basic characteristics of his infinite capacity of saying ‘no’ and ‘digging heels’, on the committee is sure shot for getting the proposal dropped by the initiator once he gets to know that the matter is being referred to the committee. Some one with the exceptional quality, that any matter referred to him is guaranteed to get lost, is invaluable to his employers because he cannot or will not complete any job assigned to him and is thus very convenient for avoiding decisions.

The successful civil servant will always ensure his appointment as member of the committee with the exclusive agenda of sabotaging decisions. In a situation when meeting within meeting (the shadow meetings) is convened by a caucus or a break away group with an intention to subvert the official one, a relaxed ambit for the top brass is to invite as many people as possible who have no interest whatsoever nor any conceivable contribution to make, while excluding people whom it does not want, either by simply forgetting to circulate their copy of the agenda. Keeping the initiative is the essence of meeting-man-ship. One needs to consider where he is going to meet. He also needs to decide whether to turn up early or not at all. Some meetings are leaderless when they start (a chairman emerging by dint or rank or strength or personality). Shadow chairman speaks as if it were from the back of benches. Meeting-man-ship requires a strategically tactical approach depending on whether the conference or the meeting is talked. Conferences differ from meetings mainly because you are talked at rather than talking among, if you follow.


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