How to Sabotage Meetings Like a Pro

A fascinating article appeared in Fortune Magazine online this week. It describes a document issued during WWII and declassified in the 1970s. It had been published in 1944 by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the agency that preceded the CIA. It remained buried in obscurity until a few years ago when a consultant named Bob Frisch found it; he was so intrigued that he used it as the basis of a new book. Its content, developed as guidance for spies infiltrating Axis organizations, sounds chillingly like what happens in U.S. companies every day in the regular course of business.

The document’s title is “Simple Sabotage Field Manual,” a title the consultant who discovered it borrowed for the book Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors That Undermine Your Workplace. (Frisch is joined by two co-authors, Robert M. Galford and Cary Greene.)
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Apparently, our spy strategy for defeating the bad guys was to bring any forward progress to a slow, grinding halt. Unfortunately, these tactics are alive and well and can be observed in almost any corporate meeting you attend today. I plan to read the book, which I (desperately) hope involves counter measures to offset these nefarious practices. For now,I’ll just let the list of tactics speak for itself. (I am not making this up.)

  • “Insist on doing everything through channels. Never permit short-cuts to be taken to expedite decisions.”
  • “Make speeches. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your ‘points’ by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.”
  • “When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration.’ Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.”
  • “Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.”
  • “Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, and resolutions.”
  • “Refer back to a matter decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.”
  • “Advocate ‘caution.’ Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.”
  • “Be worried about the propriety of any decision. Raise the question of whether [it] lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.”

I’m sure these sabotage suggestions broke the spirit of our nation’s enemies. I know they break my spirit a little every day when they happen to me.

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