Unproductive meetings - when will you decide?

by Alex Baxevanis on 18 January 2019

When pilots approach a runway to land, there's a clear decision point. At around 200ft altitude, you need to be able to see the runway to continue the approach. If not, then you must immediately ascend and try the landing again.

This decision point is so important that some planes will announce it by voice. The on-board computer will sound a loud "DECIDE" call to the cockpit as it counts down the distance to the runway. (You can watch an example on YouTube).

At this stage, the pilot in charge has only a few seconds to make a decision, which will be the difference between a safe or disastrous landing.

Analysis paralysis

Fortunately, most of us don't have to make life-or-death decisions every day.

Unfortunately, this often leads to analysis paralysis. We go from making decisions in seconds, to going round in circles for days.

I'm sure you've all been in frustrating meetings that went on for hours without any sight of progress. A 2018 survey suggested the average UK worker spent a total of 13 days a year in unproductive meetings.

If you ever find yourself in this kind of situation again, take control - don't just sit back and get frustrated.

Here are the 3 things you can immediately do:

  • Rephrase in your own words and play back to the room what you see are the available options and their potential consequences. ("So, what you're saying is we can either do A which will lead to B, or do C which will lead to D, right?")
  • Timebox decisions to give a sense of urgency. ("Let's take no more than 10 minutes to decide, so we can move on with something more important")
  • If the final decision maker is in the room, call them out by name and remind them they own the decision. ("This is what we recommend but ultimately it's your call Helen, what should we do?")

It might not take only a few seconds, but you're not flying a plane so that's fine.

As long as you help the room reach a conclusion, they'll thank you for that.

P.S. If you're even a tiny bit curious about flying, I recommend the book Skyfaring, written in the most poetic fashion by a British Airways 747 pilot. You can also read a short sample.

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