Candy Tax Your Meetings To Maximise Effectiveness

There comes a time in every man’s life when he’s simply too big to convincingly pass as a 12-year old boy at Halloween, even when cleverly disguised as a ghost. With this vehicle to the free-candy Valhalla in peril, one is compelled to discover alternatives. While some might turn to robbery, let me tell you, there are no better opportunities for abuse of power than management (cf. Dennis Kozlowski). Once I became a manager, I was suddenly responsible for all sorts of things, including establishing boundaries, rules and guidelines for my team. Drunk with power, I realized that one way to obtain free candy was to require my team members to provide it at meetings they expected me to attend. This rule began as a bit of a lark as I reminisced about dumping my spoils on to my bedroom floor, but it turned out to be a really fantastic way to encourage my team to set meeting goals and to be judicious when extending invitations.

A Meeting Agenda

Apart from power, the most salient difference I noticed following promotion to manager was the amount of work I was doing after 6 PM. Because I was spending so much time in meetings, I often had to devote evenings to work – much of which stemmed from participation in meetings (a double-edged sword!). Many of my clients had large campuses, and at the apogee of this debacle, I reached the point where I was either in a meeting or en route to one. Each evening, I spent more than 6 hours preparing documentation, writing software, completing performance evaluations, hiring new employees and so forth – all the things I should have been doing during the day. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep that fueled my nostalgia, or maybe it was my envy of teammates' children who were headed out trick-or-treating. Regardless, in early November, I created a new rule: I will not attend a meeting unless there is candy available for everyone.

At first, people assumed I was kidding, but when I stopped showing up, they understood I was serious. Subsequent meetings were accompanied by the treacly chew of Milk Duds and the puckering tartness of Sour Patch Kids. Although my new rule afforded me the opportunity to ingest unhealthy quantities of high-fructose corn syrup, I noticed something striking: I was being invited to many fewer meetings. I thought that my team might just be doing an end run, you know, kind of a Sugar Mutiny. However, regardless of whether I attended meetings, I always received minutes. Upon looking at the minutes from the week’s meetings, I realized that there were fewer being held. Then I started fretting. Perhaps the team was avoiding meetings to avoid paying the “candy tax”. Perhaps no one was doing anything. A quick look at the work plan let me rest easy: everything was on track. I kept an eye on things for a while, but the situation didn’t change. Work was getting done and decisions were being made.

My initial plan to squeeze free candy from my team turned out to be a really terrific behaviour modification tool. Requiring teammates to obtain candy before a meeting eliminated impromptu meetings and made the team more judicious about choosing participants (because more people meant having to supply more candy). Combining the candy tax with the requirement to provide agendas and minutes (a perfect use for a wiki):

  • Helped reduce the number of meetings because there was a small cost to holding one
  • Kept each meeting on track by providing an easy way (the agenda) to determine if the group was headed off on a tangent
  • Encouraged teammates to make some decisions on their own without always having to build consensus
  • Provided all parties – even those who didn’t attend – with a central place to review the topics discussed in the meetings and the decisions made
  • Allowed things to move forward more quickly because people were able to devote more time to working and less time to talking about it
  • Probably paid for the spring golf holiday of several dentists

So, if your team is paralyzed by meetings that don’t seem especially valuable, consider implementing your own candy tax. If you’re also interested in avoiding cavities, maybe you could try a cracker tax or an apple tax instead. Either one should help achieve the same objectives, and might even help you to evade the dreaded muffin top.