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Once upon a time, there was a very kind and sweet lady who lived in Vik, Iceland. Her name was Helen and, one day, in that great Icelandic town, she decided to go to the supermarket in order to buy groceries for the heavy snowfall that was quickly approaching.
On the clock over the manager’s office, it was a quarter past eleven, and the temperature of the supermarket’s thermometer marked 28 degrees. Suddenly, all the strong Icelanders saw Hellen falling to the ground. The store was full of people so of course someone shouted “someone call 112!” (the emergency number in Iceland). Ten minutes after the accident, they realized that no one had called the ambulance yet.
Calm down! Fortunately, everything went right and Helen was more than okay. In fact, she had just decided to go for a nap on the market’s floor and, when she woke up she even found her enchanted prince. Like in every good story, they lived happily ever after in the great town of Vik.
Why no one called 112?
Like you are probably expecting, Helen’s story is not real. Although, she helps us understand the importance of assigning specific tasks to specific people. While the supermarket was full of Icelanders, no one felt that it was his task to call the ambulance. Instead, they relied on each other, expecting another person to take care of that task.
Are they bad people? No, like Björk would say, it is just human behavior and… well… “there’s definitely, definitely no logic”. At least, one that applies to a scenario in which the more people are on the room, the less actions they take. Despite, it would be far more effective to identify someone, make eye contact and say very clearly “hey you: call 112”. We can be certain that in that case, that specific person would call the ambulance.
Meetings and how unproductive they can be
What often happens in meetings with too many people is that everyone discusses what A must do next, and what B must do after that. What happen after the meeting? Nothing.
In my opinion, one of the reasons why that happens resides on the fact that with too many people inside the same room, everyone gets confused. The concept has to do with the inversely proportional relationship between the number of individuals who can act and the number of those who actually decide to act. In other words, the more people available, the lesser is the individual responsibility.
In project management, the best way to reduce that problem is to ensure that every task has an owner, a person who will take care. If possible, define deadlines for that person to present the result and maybe explain the decisions that were taken. Personally, I believe that is the only way to actually make the person feel responsible for what she does. That way, they also feel more engaged with the company because they truly gave their contribute and it was their voice that mattered for that specific task.
So, next time you are on a really unproductive meeting, please remember Helen and that beautiful Icelandic town called Vik.