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When Meetings Go Terribly Wrong

For better or for worse, collaboration requires meetings. And when meetings are insufferable, collaboration suffers. Think about how much time, energy and goodwill is squandered in meetings.

We participate in meetings where people:

  • Don’t know where the meeting will be held, or how to call in

  • Don’t show up on time

  • Don’t know what the meeting is about

  • Don’t know what decisions will be made during the meeting

  • Haven’t reviewed the necessary materials in advance

  • Haven’t completed their “action items” from the previous meeting

  • Don’t remember their action items from the previous meeting

  • Haven’t prepared to facilitate their portion of the meeting

  • Aren’t sure how to facilitate a meeting in a way that engages others

  • Don’t know how to participate effectively in the meeting

  • Don’t know how much time to spend on each agenda item

  • Aren’t sure how decisions will be made during the meeting

  • Aren’t sure whether or how to express their confusion

  • Don’t interact or speak up when questions are asked

  • Have their faces buried in their phones/tablets/laptops, so it’s unclear whether they’re paying attention

  • Fail to take notes or record the meeting

During meetings, while attempting to address a “shared problem”, people:

  • Aren’t sure or can’t agree on what the problem is

  • Can’t agree on whether the problem is actually a problem

  • Aren’t aware of who is affected by the problem

  • Start arguing about solutions to different problems

  • Aren’t sure whether the problem can be fixed

  • Become afraid that fixing the problem will create even bigger problems

  • Aren’t sure what it would look like, specifically, to fix the problem

  • Don’t know who would be affected by any given solution

  • Aren't sure how to navigate and resolve differences of opinion

  • Hide their true feelings in order to avoid conflict

  • Defer to the loudest or most powerful voices in the room

We conclude our meetings finding that people:

  • Don’t know what (if anything) was decided during the meeting

  • Don’t know what they are personally responsible for doing after the meeting

  • Duplicate efforts on some action items, while leaving other items unaddressed

  • Aren’t sure whether, when or who will facilitate a follow-up meeting

  • Feel frustrated or angry for wasting another hour of otherwise productive time

  • Arrive late to their next meeting.

If you can relate, you’re obviously not alone. These problems are so common that many people believe meetings are inherently a waste of time. But that’s not necessarily true. When meetings are run well, they’re not only productive, they’re actually enjoyable. Can you imagine that? Imagine leaving your meetings knowing that all the participants feel satisfied with their work, are clear about what comes next, and feel a deeper sense of connection with each other and belonging to the team. How much would that be worth to your company, and to you personally?

So it bears repeating... When meetings are insufferable, collaboration suffers. Let’s do something about that. It’s not rocket science. But it does require some training and practice. Are you ready to make a change?


Mark Voorsanger is a consultant, speaker and executive coach who has been leading and managing teams for more than 25 years. He is a member of the training team for the Collaborative Operating System, a powerful framework for teams and organizations that need to collaborate effectively.

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