The first time I was introduced to the law of 2 feet was late in 2013 at the Drivinci unconference.
The law states…
If at any time during out time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use the law of two feet, go someplace else.
The law originated from Open Space Technology. For the unconferences I have attended this law is a great way to allow people to move from group to group without feeling the pressure that they were being rude.
The Law of Two Feet in the Workplace
I’ve seen the law of two feet be invoked in several different environments to varying degress of success - most recently I’ve seen it invoked in work the workplace. I think there are some differences between allowing this law at an unconference vs allowing it in the workplace. Today I want to explore the idea.
Why allow the law of two feet in the workplace?
In the workplace we have meetings for many different reasons. Some meetings are for communicating information, others are for gathering alignment and some sadly seem to have no reason at all. There is nothing more frustrating that being in a meeting where your presence will add no value.
Every so often when I’ve been in a meeting where I was questioning the value I’ve worked out roughly what the meeting is costing the organization per minute. In organizations where you have a lot of consultants who bill by the hour this is generally easy to do - with the outcome being frightening.
It makes sense in such meeting to allow the law of two feet. Why make someone sit in a meeting when they feel they are not adding any value. The problem is, telling a group that they can invoke the law of two feet, and them actually doing it are two different things.
It can take real guts for someone who may not be on the same reporting line as the person who organized the meeting to ‘exit’. I can see it being a career limiting move - people can take you invoking the law of two feet the wrong way.
You mean, you don’t see value in my meeting??
When to invoke the law
I’ve thought about when one invokes the law of two feet and what that communicates.
Let’s say you simply don’t pitch up to a meeting at all. Well, that is revealing. It could be seen as saying you don’t conceptually value this meeting at all. Alternatively you may have forgotten the meeting was happening in the first place and really wanted to be there - while everyone else thinks you don’t want to be there?
I think allowing the law of two feet to be invoked before a meeting starts may not be the best thing.
An alternative is to invoke the law of two feet once the agenda has been confirmed. That gives a totally different message. Conceptually I may value this meeting, however I feel I won’t be contributing to the specifics of today’s agenda. That means something totally different.
The psychology of a meeting room
Saying you can invoke the law of two feet and invoking it are two different things. I have seen many times that I have told people they can do something, which they may feel is socially unacceptable and so have still not done it.
Telling people that they can invoke the Lo2F in a meeting room where there are just a handful of people can place social restrictions on them invoking it. Getting up and leaving a room when you know your absence will be noted can hold you back from doing it.
I’ve found that having meetings in an area where people normally work makes it easier for people to ‘quietly’ leave the conversation.