Everything is equally important

everything is important

We had a two-day office retreat / meeting a few weeks ago. We listened to presentations, and lunched together (twice). I got to know some of my co-workers better. Most of them I respect more than I did before; one or two, not so much.

One exercise, however, was odd.

In a morning session, we were asked to come up with things that might improve our departmental performance. These were condensed (by a team in the back of the room, over the course of a few hours) to twenty-four suggestions. At 3:00 pm that afternoon, we were given little electronic voting devices with five keys labeled “A” through “E,”  and asked to vote on the importance of each. “A” was very important; “E” was very unimportant.

We were supposed to be going home by 4pm.

By 3:15pm, we’d only gone through a few of them. So the moderators of the session speeded up the voting.

Result: almost everything got voted “very important” or “important.” Only one or two things rated “medium.” On the plus side: we were done by 3:55pm.

What does this mean?

One interpretation: everything’s important.

Another interpretation: the voting didn’t mean anything. People were tired, or pushing whatever button they felt like.

Another interpretation: people were afraid to undervalue things, so they always voted high.

Yet another interpretation: most of the suggestions were pretty vague, or pretty universal – “We need better communication!”, for example – and how can you vote “Not very important” on something like that?

And one more: people wanted out of there, so they were voting high, with the unconscious assumption that if they liked everything, things would move more quickly.

How important do you think this exercise was?

Yes, I agree with you. It was very important.

But for a different reason than the planners of the retreat had intended.

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

One Response to Everything is equally important

  1. “Everything counts in large amounts.”

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