There are 6 people, one is playing a game on an iPad, another is answering email, two are having a conversation and in hushed tones, two are listening to one person speak. This isn’t a group of random people at Starbucks at any given time of day, these are coworkers in a meeting.  Thus was the start of an impromptu dinner party debate.

The person playing the game was wrong. 

But the game and the emailer were not paying attention in the meeting, so they are both wrong as well as the people talking on the side

Yes, but they could be multitasking, so that is ok.

No, if the side conversation was about something other than work, like the gamers they are wrong

Look, they are getting paid to work and clearly the game was wrong

Yes, but, don’t we all do some work is some way when were off the clock is it that clear-cut, in these hours I work?

The debate continued for a while until dinner  with no real conclusion and I realized what happened. We were debated  three distinct things in the same framework.

  1. Is it acceptable for people to do other things during a meeting?
  2. Is it acceptable to play video games at work?
  3. Can people really multitask and be fully engaged in a meeting.

One discussion with many threads is not going to end up with a conclusion. At dinner, there were no major business decisions to be made, just a friendly conversation. This is a stealth derailer in workplace activity. The team is tries to come up with a strategy and the discussion, while seeming focused on a common goal is all over the place and often no conclusion is reached or worse, something that is counter productive is agreed to. I read something this week that is so appropriate.

Before we engage, lets agree on what’s being discussed.