Making It Up As They Go Along: The Secret to Bad Meetings

I had a colleague who would often come through my door, sit, and vent.  Invariably, her frustration seemed to follow a very familiar outline:

My colleague had just participated in a meeting.

She entered it assuming that all were being treated as equal players.

Someone else would propose an idea (Often, this involved a small list of usual suspects).

My colleague might have an alternate or another idea. 

Yet, it was easily dismissed.

My colleague might have concerns about the proposed idea, but she was quickly treated as not being a team player.

My colleague might have wanted to explore the proposed idea, but discussion was cut off due to other minor (distracting) agenda items or time constraints.

And all this culminated in a frustrated colleague describing the events and, then, taking all this in as a personal affront.  And, while it is likely that, in some cases, it very well may have been personal, our relational-script called for my following response;

“Ya know, it is very possible that they are just making all this up as they go along…”

Whether or not this may actually be true, here are some reasons why it may seem so. The ideas may come across as:

Spontaneous, not Strategic

The idea mentioned is a sparkling object, but not necessarily a light along a path.  It sounds like a wonderful, attractive, positive, (maybe even FUN) concept, but it is difficult to immediately attach a sense of mission-driven clarity towards its purpose.

Inspired, not Perspired

There is not much homework that has gone into the proposal before it was made.   Preparedness is key when it comes to ideas AND events. One of my proudest moments came when leading an outdoor pilgrimage walk on a day with a very sketchy weather report. When the skies turned ugly, I was proud to have given advance thought in case of emergency. I packed a mega-phone and knew where all the parking garages where along the route.  Hundreds of people where directed to a safe location in less than four minutes. 

Lacking Detail

Great ideas deserve to have considerable attention to small details.  It’s a cliché but: failure to plan is planning to fail.

Righteous, not always Right

Sometimes, people are in a meeting and are just going for the personal win while at the meeting.  They are not necessarily concerned about the group’s success as much as they are about their own.  False confidence or bravado might seem to project leadership qualities. Yet, ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu reminds us that “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Of course, if it is likely that others exhibit a leadership style that is “making it up as they go along,” it must be entirely possible that we might sometimes do the same.   When making a proposal in a meeting, we must ask:

  • Have we thought through our homework, or at least encouraged others in discussing the details of the concept?”
  • Are we aware of how the concept fits into the commonly agreed-upon vision and mission of the group?
  • Does it submit to the Philippians 4:8 standard “Whatever” rule: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Do not allow yourself to be controlled by those who are making it up as they go along.   Take charge of your own choices. Slowly, surely, your credibility will grow as you become known as a thoughtful, dependable collaborator.  And not necessarily as one who rants in a colleague’s office chair after a meeting.  You do have permission to grow and explore.  You, too, have permission to make it up…. Just make it count!

D. Scott Miller

D. Scott Miller is the dean of Catholic Youth Ministry bloggers which is a polite way of either saying that he is just plain old or has been blogging for a long time (since 2004.)

Scott recently married the lovely Anne and together they have five adult young people and also grandparent three delightful kids (so, maybe he is just plain old!) Scott presently serves at Saint John the Evangelist in Columbia, MD as the director of youth and young adult ministry.

He has previously served on the parish, regional, diocesan, and national levels as well as having taught within a catholic high school. He is one of the founders of RebuildMyChurch and has returned to posting regularly (keeping regular is important to old guys) at ProjectYM.

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