How not to run a meeting

You know, Facebook can be quite handy sometimes.  It just reminded me of how twelve months ago today I was venting about a badly run meeting that I’d seen.  I was intending at the time to turn my Facebook rant into an article but never did.  Until now.

I was watching a program on Sky Sports called The Verdict.  It’s a cricket discussion show and, one year ago today, it took the form of a meeting to choose a squad of sixteen England players to send on a winter tour to Australia.  David Gower was the chairman and he was joined by Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Shane Warne and Sir Ian Botham.  It was a great lesson on how not to run a meeting.

Gower started the meeting by announcing that the first thing to do was to decide what sort of player they wanted to pick.  The other four rolled their eyes and spent the next fifteen minutes agreeing that players needed “character”.  Sometimes a little bit of thought like this can be useful at the start of a meeting.  I’ve done those training exercises where you have to rank fifteen pieces of equipment in order of which will be most useful if stuck in the jungle, and where the trick is to agree first whether the plan is to hang around in the hope of being rescued or to attempt to walk together back to civilisation.  The problem in this meeting was that character was never mentioned again.  That meant that a quarter of the meeting was already wasted.

So they moved on to picking the squad.  Somebody suggested that they go through the easy decisions first and save the ones that take most time (on this occasion the choice of batsmen) until the end.   But Gower wasn’t interested.  He wanted to start with the batsmen and work his way down.  Surely if there’s a big decision to be made that will fill the time available, you want to get the easy stuff out of the way first?

In picking the squad, Gower also wanted to pick a team of eleven players and then five squad players.  Why?  The agenda stated that they needed to pick a squad, not a team.  But Gower wanted to pick a team:

Gower: “OK. We know ten of the starting eleven.  Let’s talk about whether Woakes or Roland-Jones should be in the side?”

Botham: “Why do we need to do that when we all agree both will be in the 16?   We’re wasting time.”

Gower: “Because I want to pick a starting 11.”

At this point, they spent five minutes talking about the two candidates, discussing pros and cons.   They then took a vote and all five voted for Woakes.   I couldn’t help thinking that Gower should have counted the votes before comparing the two players.   And I wasn’t the only one with that view.  You could see the other four selectors all throwing their hands up in frustration.

This is when the other four started to worry that the meeting was going to overrun if they left it to Gower.  They started trying to take charge but it all ended up in an argument.

Warne: “Right, we have twelve players in the squad and need four more.”

Atherton: “No.   We have eleven and need five more.”

Warne: “But didn’t we just agree that Roland-Jones, although not in the team, is in the squad?”

Atherton: “Yes, he’s one of the five.”

Anarchy!

And then there was the choice of the second spinner.  Gower started off by doing something right!  He went round the table asking for names.  Two voted for Rashid, two voted for Crane. Botham voted for Leach.   The sensible thing to do here was surely to apply the single transferrable vote methodology and ask Botham to choose between Rashid and Crane?  Instead Gower announced that, as chair, he had the casting vote, so his choice, Crane, got the place on the plane.

They did eventually get to a squad of sixteen but there were some important decisions at the end of the meeting that were rushed through without enough time to debate them properly.

So, the question is could I have done any better?   Yes, of course I could.  I’d have started the meeting by getting everyone to name their choice of sixteen players.  From what I could tell from watching the program, the five selectors would have had fourteen names in common.   One of the differences was over the second spinner (which I’ve already mentioned and could be resolved in a couple of minutes); the other was on the balance of the squad, with Warne preferring one more bowler and one fewer batsman in the squad.   I’d then have facilitated a discussion on squad balance and, once that was agreed, on the identity of the sixteenth player.  I expect we’d have finished early.

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