How Meetings Fail (and how to fix it)

Meetings fail when they wander through generalities, accomplish little, and consume the attention of people who could be making better use of time.


Meetings propel an organization forward when they can stay focused on an agenda, start and end on time, and practice healthy conflict.


As the leader, keep a watchful eye on the tendency for meetings to drift from their stated purpose.


Meeting drift happens when the 20 minute stand up turns into a 60 minute impromptu strategy session.


Meeting drift happens when the 60 minute department-level check-in turns into a slow-motion product development and focus-group session.


If you find that your meetings are suffering from a bad case of drift, here's a few suggestions to help:


Acknowledge the problem.

Especially if you're the primary leader and are facilitating the meeting, most people will be reluctant to announce that your meetings suck and are wasting time. So acknowledge the issue and give your team the chance to provide feedback.


Be ruthless.

Empower meeting facilitators with authority to cut off the conversation for everyone, including the primary leader, for the sake of time. Enforce time allocations for each agenda item, and work hard to drive to a decision point by that time. Celebrate when you leave a meeting early.


Recognize the alternatives.


If truly helpful things are happening in the drift, then carve out another time to formalize that discussion. This means more meetings, so tread carefully. Rather than making this new meeting recur forever, make it time bound over 3 to 6 weeks to address the specific issue in the drift.


Meetings can be better. Avoiding the specific way meetings can fail through drift will help.


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