7 Simple Steps to Restore Function to Dysfunctional Meetings

Everyone is familiar with dysfunctional business meetings! The meetings where the people around the table or on the conference call are partially, if not completely, disengaged. You have people on Facebook, people texting, trading stocks, surfing the web, day dreaming and even taking cell phone calls in subdued voices like the rest of the people there can’t hear or see what is going on!

It is the most bizarre thing but we have all been there! Check out this hilarious video for some great examples.

I remember attending a meeting where one of the participants literally fell asleep with their head back and their mouth wide open! It was the sort of wacky thing that you would only expect to see on an episode of The Office . . . Except it wasn’t on TV it was in my meeting!

I have been in other meetings where the meeting leader was doing their presentation and a participant’s cell phone rang and they answered it at the conference room table like they were the only one there!

Why do these things happen in meetings?

  1. The meeting participants are obviously disengaged from the topic and perhaps from their jobs!
  2. There is a lack of respect for the meeting leader and participants.
  3. The culture of the company condones these actions just by the simple fact that it tolerates the behavior.
  4. The meeting agenda and objectives are not defined up front.
  5. The wrong people are attending the meeting
  6. There is no expectation for follow up actions

If this is happening in your organization, what can you do to change this behavior and get back to productive meetings?

Here are the seven steps that I have found most effective in restoring function to dysfunctional meetings.

  1. Cancel the meeting if it can be handled by a simple conversation – If you can get the decision or information that you are looking for by simply talking to a few people then don’t waste everyone’s time with a meeting!
  2. Limit the attendees to the meeting. Only invite the people that are absolutely necessary. If people do not have any stake in what is being discussed then they do not need to attend.
  3. Set a clear agenda for the meeting. This should establish why the meeting is necessary, what is going to be covered and what the expected outcome is for the meeting.
  4. Ask the meeting participants for their thoughts after explaining the agenda and the desired outcomes but before diving into the meeting. As Atul Gawande says “empowering people a chance to speak at the beginning of an event, meeting, project seems to activate their sense of participation and willingness to speak up and share their thoughts and expertise during the event.”
  5. Have a designated person for taking meeting minutes. This does not have to be super formal. An informal set of notes that documents what was discussed and decided is all that is required.
  6. Record action items as part of the meeting notes. Assign an owner to the actions along with a due date.
  7. Follow up with the action items and the meeting decisions. By following up, you are setting the expectation that the meetings are a valuable part of the business and everyone will be held accountable to what was discussed and decided

Don’t let your culture of dysfunctional meetings continue for one more day. These meetings are costing your business in so many ways!  Get started today and bring function back to your dysfunctional meetings!

You can leave a comment on your experience with dysfunctional meetings by clicking here


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different resultsAlbert Einstein

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