I’ve witnessed my share of poorly run meetings. It’s no wonder there is such frustration about them.
Poor meeting management is certainly one source of the problem. But sometimes the problem is much more fundamental: The meeting should never have happened in the first place.
Here’s a meeting I’d like to forget…
Once I attended a meeting to discuss some redesign work on a major road within the city where I live. The purpose was never quite clear, and that should have been a warning sign.
When the meeting began, I saw an agenda. A good portion of the meeting would be spent on developing a vision for how this road might be improved. After about 90 minutes of visioning work, the meeting participants learned there wasn’t funding to do anything that we had just discussed and instead we needed to focus on crosswalk design at three intersections.
Several weeks later, I talked with some others who were in attendance. We shared a common frustration. Why had we spent all that time discussing something that wasn’t going to happen? We concluded that it was a waste of our time.
Poor excuses for a meeting
Occasionally clients want to hold a meeting that I don’t think is justified. I push back. They offer reasons it should occur. Typically it is one of these:
- Staff meetings are critical for keeping people on the same page.
- I thought everyone on the team should know what his or her teammates are doing.
- This meeting is a good way to force people to complete their work. It will hold them accountable.
- You’ve got to pull people together to build a sense of teamwork.
Even worse excuses for a meeting
Again, that’s what folks say when I push back. Sometimes I wonder whether the real reasons—those they aren’t sharing—might be even worse:
- Make people think they had a say in a decision that has already been made.
- Ask for input so it looks like I care, even though I don’t intend to do anything with that input.
- Bring people together because running meetings will make me look more important.
Any of these reasons sound familiar? Promise me you’ll never utter (or even think) one of these statements.
When you hear one of these reasons or sense it to be the real reason behind what the organizer has stated, I hope you’ll do what you can to stop the meeting. Here are three options:
- Push back on the organizer to find a more valuable reason to meet.
- Suggest an alternative that doesn’t involve meeting at all.
- Find a reason why you can’t attend. Maybe you can’t keep the meeting from happening, but you can at least save yourself.
If a meeting is unnecessary, the people you invite will eventually figure it out. And once they do, they are not going to be happy about it. People don’t want others to waste their time. A meeting with a weak purpose does just that.
The resentment and frustration that results will make this meeting impossible to save. Instead, it will be just more evidence that people will use to strengthen their beliefs that meetings are gigantic wastes of time.