Meetings; beware of the HIPPO and the Abilene Paradox!

The Badger’s niece has recently been rewarded for her hard work with a promotion. She’s very pleased, but it was obvious over a recent coffee that her job satisfaction is reducing. Why? Perhaps just because she’s in a male dominated organisation? No. It’s because she’s now operating at a level in her organisation where the volume of meetings and the seniority of their attendees has dramatically risen and encroached on her time for ‘real productive work’. She’s adjusting, but feeling a little intimidated and frustrated. She asked the Badger what he’d learned about meetings during his career. The Badger spluttered in his coffee, and then communicated the following.

First, some meetings – face to face, conference calls etc – are a necessity in any organisation. Most, however, have too many attendees and hangers-on, are poorly managed, and are rituals or ego massages rather than truly useful events. Before attending, always ask yourself two questions; ‘Is this meeting absolutely necessary?’ and ‘Is it of real benefit to me to attend?’. If the answer’s No, don’t attend.

Second, decisions taken in or after more than 75% of meetings will be in line with the HIPPO – the HIghest Paid Persons Opinion! The reason has its roots in psychology, and even the BBC has written about the HIPPO! So, in meetings or conference calls, do two things…know who the HIPPO is, and don’t be frightened to challenge the HIPPO with your own opinion. The best senior people listen and welcome input from others. They know they don’t have a monopoly in being right.

Third, learn about the Abilene Paradox (e.g. see here and here) whereby a group makes a collective decision that’s contrary to the thoughts and feelings of each person in that group. It happens because humans have a natural aversion to going against the perceived feelings of a group. Individuals don’t, therefore, speak up for fear of rocking the boat. If no one speaks up the group decision can be at odds with the view and desire of every individual in the group. Over the years the Badger’s seen this happen with ‘Go-Live’ decision meetings, often with disastrous results! So, always say what you think in meetings; don’t be intimidated by the presence of others more senior than yourself – it’s okay to go against the herd.

The Badger’s niece perked up and bought a second round of coffees! We chatted some more about the people behaviour aspects of meetings. She eventually departed with a big grin, saying she intended to ‘shake up’ the next meeting she was in. Great stuff! The Badger just hopes his niece’s organisation is ready for the whirlwind that’s been unleashed…


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