Meetings regularly hit the number one spot when people describe what most frustrates and holds them back at work.  There are too many, they last too long, they are badly run and are unproductive.

Pretty damning stuff.  And yet meetings should the most exciting part of our working lives!  Where we get together with inspiring colleagues and collaborate to take the significant, well thought through decisions which drive the organisation forward.

A huge piece of research, by no less than Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria* showed that on average CEOs spend 61% of their time in meetings.  This would not be the case if they didn’t consider it the best use of their time.  So why do the rest of us get so frustrated?

For me I think there are four main things which would really help.


Chair the meeting well

Firstly, chairing a meeting is a real skill in its own right.  Reading the room, making sure everyone contributes fully and constructively, ensuring full debate without duplication or meandering, reaching best outcomes, making sure everyone is clear and is committed to what has just been agreed… I could go on.

This is a difficult thing to do and it is something we are generally expected to learn by observation alone – generally from people who are chairing meetings because they are the most Senior person in the room rather than being the best placed to do so.

How much difference do you think it could make investing in a little development work throughout your organisation in the art of chairing meetings?


Prepare and complete the meeting well

Secondly, (and this is not entirely discrete from the above) how much attention gets paid to the process of the meeting?  I know this doesn’t exactly sound like exciting stuff, but the following points are not trivial ones:

  • Do you circulate reading material well before the meeting?Meetings are for informed debate, not (generally) for receiving and digesting information for the first time.
  • Do you circulate a fresh agenda for every meeting? (Not a cut and pasted version of last month’s agenda.)
  • Is each Agenda item a clear question or call to action rather than just a vague topic? “What is driving the 7% drop in UK Pipeline and how can we counter it?”  As opposed to “Sales”.
  • Do you insist conciseminutes are circulated within 48 hours of a meeting (with disagreements dealt with immediately)


Have a clear shared objective

Thirdly, is it clear what the overarching shared objective of the people around the table is?  Do they pull together? Or are they just there to defend their own corner?  Generally it is healthy to consider that people take off their functional, partisan hats when they enter a meeting room and everyone has the same, equal role in creating the best outcomes.  The US Military’s “After Action Reviews”, where a Private and a 4 Star General are equal for the duration of the meeting are fantastic examples of this.


Click on this link if you’d like to consider the importance of a shared purpose along with the “Five Dysfunctions of a team”


Question attendance

Fourthly, is it OK to question attendance?  We tend to be very polite about inviting people who might want to know what’s going on and making sure that no-one feels un-invited! (Especially senior staff)  We also tend to overly optimistic when thinking ahead to future meetings; “It might be useful and I probably won’t be as busy as I am now.” (Which is never true!)  And finally there’s inertia.  If you attend a meeting once, you’ll probably get invited to all future meetings just because you’re now on the list.

Is there scope to get better across the organisation at chairing meetings and developing meeting best practice as a thing in its own right?  I suspect there is!


If you’d like a few more meeting tips, please click on the link for Ten Golden Rules for Effective Meetings