The Trouble with Meetings

The Trouble with Meetings

An open secret in the corporate world is that meetings are a necessary evil that replicate rapidly and consume time greedily.

Consider how so many meetings conclude with a thoughtful consensus: there ought to be more meetings about these things. Chances are that no one is really clear on what the things are, but by the end of the next meeting we will have another meeting to figure that out.

This is why I am convinced the single most important aspect of facilitation is bringing forth the responsibility of today in order to stop its escape into the ethereal ‘next meeting’ and replicating endlessly.

Below are some common multiplying meetings and tactics to stop their multiplication before it gets out of control.



Brainstorm Sessions –

People love brainstorming, because they get to be cool and creative without the consequences. Nobody wants to be the bummer that ruins the ‘creative vibe’ with structure and reality. (Also called rap sessions, discovery, kickin’ it, and getting everyone’s thoughts)

How to Stop Multiplication: Get really clear on the intended outcome and remind people annoyingly in the first 10 minutes (are we here to solve a problem, design a logo, map consequences of a solution, etc.,?). The best way to end the churn of the storms, while making everyone feel involved, is to propose some form of decision criteria or guiding principles. This creates a paradigm that refines any future Brainstorming session and gets people comfortable with progress.

Some people treat these like vacation, and might get annoyed when you treat it like work and be productive. Fun fact: you’re still at work.

Withdrawal Meetings –

Withdrawal meetings are scheduled for someone to feel like activity is occurring, because activity feels a lot like progress. That activity can be addicting for action-oriented people that have trouble understanding how to make progress on complex or delayed work.

How to Stop Multipication: If this is your meeting, don’t schedule it unless you need to. If you are being compelled to attend, focus the conversation on actions completed, actions outstanding, and barriers to completing those actions. If there is no discussion over two meetings, consider moving to written communication or a 15 minute read out. Usually people scheduling like this tend to have trouble understanding what outcome their work is targeting, it is worth refreshing with them if they continually go back to using.

Side Note: If you’re having a meeting to have a meeting, then you’re not doing work. You’re just having a get together with people with whom you have no intention of socializing. Which is a really weird way to spend your time.

The Weekly, Hour-Long 15-Minute Touchbase –

Very similar to the previous case. This meeting had a purpose, but there isn’t nearly enough substance to justify the length of the meeting. Instead of multiplying in number, this one has grown in length. This type of meeting demonstrates an interesting principle, the land grab for time deflates the value of the time. 

How to Stop Multiplication: If this is your meeting, cut the time to only what you need and create an agenda that arrives at the necessary outcomes (not the topics of interest). If this is someone else’s meeting, help the organizer understand the impact of inflated time. If the team doesn’t need to discuss topics, advocate replacing the status meeting with a status report.

If all else fails, only attend the first 15 minutes and train the group to push their priorities for you forward. You need to make strategic investments with your time.

Prioritization Renovation –

When the larger team gets together to calibrate on what the yearly goals are for this week.  These are tough. While it is incredibly important to be sure you are focused on the right things and adapting as you make changes, you can’t constantly overhaul your long term priorities or progress will never get made.

How to Stop Multiplication: Be disciplined about the types of priorities and goals you have. If you are discussing changes to high-priority long term goals frequently you either have poorly chosen your goals or you have a poor governance system. Neither are flattering, but both need solving beyond tactically dodging meetings. For a quick way to address an overactive governance bureaucracy, I suggest highlighting types of priorities and reminding everyone what needs the constant review of the system and what it exists to enforce.