The 3.45 pm syndrome goes as follows. You have a long day meeting. All is going well. It started early, say 8 am. There are people in the room from different parts of the company. It’s all very strategic, very serious and very effective. New data is shown, debate is rich, decisions are made.
It’s 3.45 pm and people’s mind are starting to switch attention: Did my secretary book a taxi? I need to check in for my flight. See if I can get out early, the traffic may be horrible. I still need to finish that memo. Dammit! I forgot I have parents’ evening in the school tonight. Come on, we all agree, can we finish this? Etc.
Then, at 3.46, closer to the expected end, somebody launches a grenade and starts challenging the very fundamentals of the meeting. The methodology used to bring the data, is flawed. The strategy is not defined. Decisions made cannot be made because people who really need to make the decisions are not in the room. All of the above? Worse, the most classical 3.45 pm grenade is: ‘But what are we trying to achieve? What is the objective of this meeting?’
Murder is on the cards. Disbelief is so high that people don’t know what to say to the grenade-throwing lady from Division X. What the hell? Is she mad? Oh my God, we are not getting out earlier. Why on earth have we gone through the whole day progressing with data, debate, and decisions and she is saying this now? But who is she anyway? She hasn’t said a word for the entire day.
There are different ends to this true story, repeated hundred times in my consulting times. One end is to quickly launch a counterattack and save the day. Effective. Another end is somebody saying: ‘actually this is a very good question’ (double murder?) Anything in between.
Why does anybody wait to 3.45 pm to launch these ‘fundamental questions’? Self-importance, ego, showing off, cleverness? These or any others, but it is never, ever genuine concern.
If you want to avoid the 3.45 pm question (translation: you want to get your flight back, you want to be in time for parents’ evening, you want to finish that memo) imagine these questions at 8.30 am, and launch them upfront. Don’t assume everybody in the room is in the same page. Perhaps not even in the same book. Double check, triple check, that the ‘fundamentals’ have been understood and agreed. Before all starts.
Besides the fact that anybody asking at 3.45 pm, what ‘the objectives of the meeting – started at 8.00 am –are’ deserves permanent exile, at least, the 3.45 pm questions are stressful and debilitating.
The above scenario is not a joke. It happens every day. It’s not even funny. It is part of the recurrent repertoire of interventions by ‘smart people’ that dominate corporate life.
These people are not asking genuine questions out of love for the brethren. Not at 3.45 pm.
The treatment is prevention. The treatment for the 3.45 pm questions is to bring them all forward, on the table, at 8.35 am.