“Trawler Net Meetings”
Let’s be honest, we’ve all at some point been invited (or more usually instructed) to join a meeting about which we know little in advance and have even less knowledge of what our contribution would be. These are very likely to be what I’m calling “Trawler Net meetings” because they are usually a result of a careless effort to drag in a huge volume of sea in the hope of some useful fish being in the load. Several intentions tend to drive these types of meetings, but let’s start with the most common context.
Often mid project when, despite work on the planned outcome is well underway, someone realises they have not yet defined a full scope, a defined outcome, a proper budget, clear team structures, proper project management or governance etc. One or more of these are now needing to be rapidly retro fitted to the project. This is surprisingly common where a well supported project is kicked off in enthusiasm with many contributing teams starting what they think are their work streams: like starting a journey without a map. After a while when it become clear the ongoing work streams are not heading towards a coherent whole then enthusiasm starts to be overtaken by panic and, rather than immediate focus on analysis and resolutions, a desire begind to avoid or better still redirect blame. This becomes the birthing ground for “Trawler Net meetings”
These are probably called by a senior manager or, more likely by a very hastily late appointed poor bloody project manager whose been handed the poison chalice with little or no background to the project. Be assured that, at least in the early stages these meetings, obtaining a productive, useful, clearly governed outcome is rarely a planned or expected driver of the sessions. The actual drivers will tend to be one or more of:
- A desperate hope that if enough people are invited the some of them will know what the hell is going on and might start the process of clarification for us all…large redundancy of (actual appropriateness of) attendees is accepted, ‘collateral damage’.
- A way of looking like the organiser is holding a ‘workshop’ (very professional sounding) to get to the bottom of the issues and work a solution…a persuasive fiction that will often buy a few breaths of latitude while some more defined, considered plan is built.
- Often actually well supported by some invitees who can use this as a finger pointing forum to divert blame form themselves..and knowing that, in the confusion of or lack of general knowledge of the overall project status, it will be difficult to challenge those accusations: a great opportunity for (at least temporary) ass covering.
In short then these sessions are more about ‘casting the runes’ hoping fortune will help show a path to improvement rather than a well considered exercise and rarely produce anything more than inter management bickering, a hunt for blame rather than a way forward, frustration in those who obviously need not have been there and a loss of credibility for the unfortunate organiser….not a fishing trip you want to be associated with.
So in summary, if you are invited to a meeting which seems to have more than 4-6 participants and those names seem to cover a very wide span of working areas and especially if it is on a project that is unknown to you…..feel the hairs on the back of your neck raise and, before accepting insist on at least being told:
- What is the nature and outcome of the project?
- Is there a project scope, definition and mandate they can share?
- What specifically do they see the expected contribution of you and/or your are to be at this meeting?
- Is there a proper agenda?
- Is project management in place?
- Even then, if you accept, look for any of the signs above during the session and if you think this is one of those random seafaring catches then you should now have enough evidence to base a refusal of any following invitations.