Are Your Meetings Spent Bikeshedding?

You’re probably guilty of bikeshedding but didn’t even realise.

We are all guilty of bikeshedding.

But what is it?

Bikeshedding, also known as Parkinson’s law of triviality, describes our tendency to devote a disproportionate amount of our time, energy and other resources to trivial matters and minor issues while leaving important matters unattended.

The term comes from Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s metaphorical example when he described the law of triviality to describe how organisations tend to focus on inconsequential issues and put aside more complex matters.

Parkinson outlined the law of triviality through a story where he asked us to imagine a financial committee meeting where there were three matters on the agenda:

  1. A proposal for a £10 million nuclear plant
  2. A proposal for a £350 bike shed
  3. A proposal for a £21 annual coffee budget

He suggested that the committee would sail through the first proposal because it is complex and it is more difficult for people to voice their opinion on a complicated issue.

The committee would quickly move on to the proposal for the bike shed and spend far more time discussing it than they did the nuclear plant. They would spend even more time discussing the coffee budget, as this was the simplest.

And it’s true. Think about what happens in your own life and staff meetings. There will be plenty on the agenda no doubt but how much time is actually spent on dealing with the important stuff?

Crucial matters are often shunted into yet another meeting because they are too complex and the unimportant stuff gets more air time. You and your colleagues will likely find it much easier to talk about whether or not to get new furniture for the staffroom than writing a new policy.

You might be guilty of it in a lesson.

So many of us love the sound of our own voices and it doesn’t take much for us to go off track and start talking about something that isn’t really relevant. You bang on about something at the expense of what really matters and spend far too long discussing something that isn’t going to help students pass their exams.

The way to banish bikeshedding is to have highly specific meetings (Parker, 2019) that focus on the task in hand and aren’t bogged down with AOB. This is very much down to who is running the meeting and how they clamp down on any superfluous talk that threatens to derail the important issue.

Bikeshedding can eat into time and wellbeing and this can influence a school’s culture and staff morale.

Spending too long on trivial and minor tasks is inefficient and impacts negatively on a school and everyone in it.

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