How many times have you found yourself sitting in a meeting and silently asking:

“What the hell am I doing here?”
“Does ‘this’ actually justify being in a room together?”

Maybe it’s a standing weekly meeting that no longer serves its original purpose. Or, a promised status update that has turned into an endless presentation with little interaction. In these situations we are left feeling frustrated and defeated. Many might secretly, or vocally, wish for an end to ALL meetings in our lives! I don’t think this overcorrection is the answer. Bad meetings at work often happen despite good intentions. Well-meaning leaders make one of two errors; 1) They decide to have a meeting when doing so is not actually the best vehicle to achieve their goals, or 2) They are less than rigorous in defining the purpose of meetings.

Here are three choices that will help ensure your future meetings feel purposeful, meaningful and productive:

Choice 1: Stop using meetings for the wrong reasons. Decide you are no longer going to bring people together for long presentations during which experts talk “at” people with little discussion or interaction. Ask yourself whether the information you want to convey might be better communicated via another live, or asynchronous, channel. Finally, be honest with yourself – have you initiated a meeting to create the “illusion of inclusion” when a decision has already been made?

One caveat here. There are moments when sensitive or controversial information is best shared in a meeting to provide the immediate opportunity for people to “digest” information together, ask clarifying questions, and/or explore implications. Examples include layoffs, unexpected leadership changes, and the like.

Choice 2: Only meet for the right reasons. The above scenarios represent the lowest and worst reasons for bringing people together, so now ask yourself: What can we accomplish together that can’t be accomplished in any other way? From my perspective, these are the five highest and best reasons to use “the business tool we call meetings”:

  1. To leverage multiple perspectives by engaging collaboratively in creative problem-solving.

  2. To make decisions and plans that require expertise and buy-in from varied stakeholders.

  3. To strengthen connection and a shared sense of purpose among team members.

  4. To generate new ideas and options by inviting diverse points of view around a focused question.

  5. To learn together in ways that create shared language, skills, and practices.

Create your own version of this list so that you have an internal standard for knowing when and when not to convene.

Choice 3: Get more rigorous and specific in defining the purpose of your meetings. According to Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet And Why It Matters, we need to hone in on purpose by answering the question: What specifically do we want to be different because we gathered? For example, rather than making meetings “about” a topic like a product launch, you would articulate the purpose as: “finalize the plan for the project launch, ensuring that team members know the role they will play in the launch”. I would add two additional questions to help meeting planners discern purpose: At the end of the meeting, has the group committed to specific decisions, outcomes, and actions? and… X weeks after the group has gathered, how will they measure the results of the meeting?

Additional examples of a clear, concise, purposeful meeting topic include:

Identify the implications of the recent crisis in our community and commit to a near-term course of action.

Generate ideas for new products aimed at filling our company’s seasonal sales gap during the summer months.

Build a greater sense of mutual understanding and respect regarding team members’ individual styles, roles, and goals.

Every other decision – including timing, place, agenda structure, and essential participants, and information – will flow from having clarity about your meeting’s purpose and desired outcomes.

Finally, if you don’t see a legitimate purpose in bringing people together, chances are the people you’ve invited are also questioning the value of the gathering. Have the courage to cancel or re-frame a purpose-less meeting!

Image Credit: Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

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