Occasionally at work I feel a strange urge when walking past a meeting room. You see, I work at a pretty large company currently, and there are lots of meeting rooms, and lots of people meeting in them, most of whom I don’t know and have probably never met. And, in working at a large company, things tend to be very, very structured. In fact, I would say that much of what we do is trying to keep things as ordered and predictable as possible. No surprises for the customer. Make sure we don’t have any surprises when we deploy this. We have standards and processes and documentation to make sure that everything happens the way it’s supposed to, when it’s supposed to. It’s not that this always works, but if there’s one main driving feel to the atmosphere of basically every large company I’ve been at, it’s that everyone should do everything they can to make sure everything goes the way it should. Our work is laid out in Gantt charts. Our meetings are scheduled days, week, and sometimes months in advance. We send emails worded with an eye to who will be held accountable if things go awry. Even our “spontaneous fun” is planned. My team was planning to have a team outing where we would go to a Twins game. We started planning which games were possibilities about a month and a half out. We looked at the available teams, ticket prices, dates that conflict with likely overtime at work (we will of course be going in the evening or the weekend on our own time). We narrowed down to a set of acceptable dates. We assigned a point person to contact someone within the company who has organized this sort of thing before (we’re really not that big of a team). We set a timeline of when we needed have a decision on tickets by, and contingencies for pushing out the time frame of games we’ll look at if we don’t have things lined up enough in advance. We,… well, you get the idea.
Also, I’ve had it occasionally occur where I’ve walked into the wrong meeting in progress by accident, because I was at the right room number, but on the wrong floor (because all of the floors look alike except for being different shades of pastels with the life sucked out of them), or the meeting had been moved since I last checked my email. And I’ve found, without fail, that every one in the meeting room stops, looks at you expectantly, and waits for you to say something. At which point you need to sheepishly apologize and slink out. The fortunate part is that it’s a big enough place that there’s a good chance no one will recognize you later to make you re-live it or know who you are to complain to your boss about it (especially good since one time when I accidentally did this I’m pretty sure the people in the meeting were CEO-type level folks who all looked quite serious and were obviously in mid argument – slinked out of that one fast).
So, occasionally as I wander past meeting rooms, I feel the intense need (haven’t done it yet, just felt the urge) to lean in, wait for everyone to pause and look at me expectantly, and then say something that’s just random enough to completely stop the conversation, but just potentially relevant enough to have people feel the intense need to discuss whatever it is I’ve just said, as they’re so used to any information being provided being provided for a relevant, structured reason, and then lean back out, close the door, and walk away.
If one were planning this, it would also help that all of our meeting rooms show up in Outlook, and will show on their calendars when they’re in use, and (usually) what the meeting is about, and who is attending. So, you could easily cherry pick meetings to be ones where you know that most of the people won’t know each other (so you can actually come in an sit down for a while before someone questions you), where the topic will be really dull (weekly status meetings), or everyone’s going to be a bit slow to wake up and respond (hour six of an all day training session on the new time entry tool).
For instance (with stage directions):
(lean in, look around the room at everyone happily and slightly expectantly)
“The ice cream is ready.”
(nod head quickly twice, smile, and exit)
(lean half way in the door, offhandedly and somewhat disinterested)
“Your pizza is here.”
(at a first meeting of teams, two steps in, somewhat angry and sharply, looking around dartingly)
“The toilet is plugged again.”
(pause just long enough to imply that you’re looking for a response, but not long enough to get one, stomp out.)
(at a routine, but long meeting, preferably without any high level managers, briskly, but casually enter and circle the table, tap people on the head as you go by)
“Duck, duck, duck, duck…”
(continue until you have made a full lap of the table and no one has said anything directly to you, and exit without saying goose. If anyone says anything to you or becomes angry during your lap, continue until you get to them (do another half lap if necessary), tag them goose and sprint out of the room at full speed.)
(at a meeting of high level managers, lean in, look directly at whomever is speaking and interrupt)
“Call on line one.”
(nod reassuringly and expectantly, exit)
(at large meeting where it is likely no one knows each others, such as the kick off of a new project or initiative, walk in absent mindedly as if you meant to be at this meeting but were delayed. sit next to whomever is talking, preferably a man, stare at him until he pauses, calmly)
“There was nothing you could have done to save her”
(pat him on the back, and walk out) (related xkcd allusion)
(any meeting at all, walk in somewhat quickly and flustered, look under the table)
“Has anyone seen my poodle?”
(wait for responses, but don’t provide any more information, exit)
Feel free to add your own in the comments.