Why Do Meetings Start Late?

A workshop exercise to introduce systems thinking

Everyone can identify with meetings that start late. To introduce formal systems thinking we often ask a group the question, “why do meetings start late,” and map their responses on flip chart paper using “word and arrow” diagrams. As their thinking progresses, we show how the diagram evolves to include more and more complexity and feedback loops. At some point we might shift to using software to represent the emerging model.

Why-Do-Meetings-Start-Late.pdf illustrates this progression from a series of hand-drawn flip charts to a series of more formal diagrams (made in Microsoft Excel using the Draw Toolbar).

This series of diagrams shows the development of a system diagram, not a "finished" model. (Even in the last diagram there is a "thought cloud" that raises a question about the completeness of the model.)

For a group that is learning about systems thinking, it is intended to show that it's "OK" (indeed, necessary) to start out small, sloppy, and poorly thought out, and then make changes, rethink the elements, rearrange the appearance, and so on.