The Bike Shed Effect

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is also known as the Bike Shed Effect.  It is based around an imaginary management meeting where the committee came together to discuss nuclear plant plans and other smaller matters. The nuclear plant plans were passed within minutes and on of the minor matters, the colour of the bike shed was discussed for hours.  The focus and time was spent on the more trivial items, with minimal time spent on the important items; was this due to lack of understanding or knowledge of the subject?

For whatever reasons this happens, it is often very true of the workplace today.

The outcome and the impact of these meetings on the individuals and business often results in a waste of time, a waste of energy, demoralising feelings and detracts from the important issues that have a positive impact on business growth.  And yet, the Bike Shed Effect continues to focus attendees one the little things and gloss over the important issues.

Why are Managers not owning this, are they enablers?  Is there a culture within your business that silIMG_9632enablingMently promotes this… Qui tacet consentit, – silence gives consent.

Six simple truths to getting over the Bike Shed Effect in meetings…

  1. Obvious first point – have an agenda with allotted timings for each agenda item.
  2. Set the scene for each agenda item before the individual discussion, e.g. “I know that this is a bone of contention, however, we have 10 minutes to come up with an answer. Please write down your solution and let’s go with the majority vote and move on to the next item.”
  3. Ensure that the important tasks are at the beginning of the meeting. If the meeting does over run, the less important tasks can roll over to the next meeting.
  4. If an item rolls over more than twice, drop it from the agenda. It is not important.
  5. When an agenda item is being offered for the meeting ask the contributor what the objective of the item is. Be very clear with the objective, it will allow you to direct the conversation back if it goes off track.
  6. Finish the meeting on or before time… never finish a meeting late.


Parkinson is also quoted as having said that “work expands to fill the time available”.

Changing Attitudes | Influencing Behaviours | Impacting Outcomes…


Margo Manning is Managing Director of Margo Manning Ltd and Bute Learning and Development. Margo is a professional speaker and is an Executive Coach. Margo works with Managers and Leaders to move them from static performance to high performance.  She works with her clients to Drive Success Through Performance.

Margo has been in the development arena for 20 years and more specifically in coaching for 11 of those.  Margo has worked with companies such as UBS, Goldman Sachs, AON, Balfour Beatty, Brunswick LLP, BBMV, Tower Hamlets Homes to name a few.