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7 Reasons Meetings Don’t Succeed

1. Purpose, Purpose, Purpose!
2. Lack of Preparation
3. The Wrong Participants
4. Participant Behaviours
5. Over-ambitious Agendas
6. Poor Participation
7. Hidden Agendas

There’s no doubt bad meetings are a waste of time and valuable resources.   It is estimated in the UK, a total of £27.5 billion in workforce hours are wasted each year as a result of ineffective meetings.  In these times of economic challenge, it’s nonsense to tie people up in unproductive, unnecessary and unfocused meetings that result in poor decision-making and inadequate action. 

Take greater responsibility for your meeting effectiveness and act on the 7 reasons below which prevent meeting success.  Better still; engage a professional facilitator who will bring their meeting expertise in delivering effective and successful meetings.

1. Purpose, Purpose, Purpose!

I’m amazed at how many meetings get called without a clear and concise purpose.  If the meeting leader and participants show up at the meeting and only then begin to question why its taking place, there’s little probability the meeting will achieve success.  

I recommend you get clear on your meeting purpose and communicate this well in advance to all participants so they arrive purpose-full and focused on achieving the desired outcomes.  Your purpose should be captured in a single sentence.  If you can't, you either have multiple purposes that will require more than one meeting to be effective or you are unclear about your purpose.

2. Lack of Preparation

In my experience, we generally don’t afford the whole business of meeting the respect it deserves.  Too often, we rush to get people together without taking time to adequately prepare.  As well as considering the purpose and outcomes you want, preparation includes how to conduct the meeting, knowing the kind of meeting you’re having (decision-making, discussion, information sharing, relationship building) and designing the meeting accordingly.  Preparation also includes practical matters such as the environment, seating arrangements, refreshments etc. since these have a significant impact on participants e.g. a meeting room without natural light will affect the moods of people.

3.. The Wrong Participants?

I believe it’s essential (given your purpose) to know who should attend a meeting.  If it is a decision-making meeting, all those required to make the decision need to participate.  It’s a waste of time and money if the meeting is stalled because a key decision-maker is absent.  Equally, decide who need not attend – don’t waste people’s time if their attendance is non-essential nor make it personal by fearing you are excluding someone.

4. Participant Behaviours

What people get up to once the meeting begins could be the difference between success and chaos. Every organisation has a meeting culture and this is expressed in the behaviours displayed as the meeting unfolds.  Behaviours likely to compromise the success of the meeting include emotional arguments, poor listening, more than one discussion at a time, irrelevant discussions, over-talkative participants, use of mobile devices throughout the meeting and poor note taking.

The meeting leader or facilitator can influence the conduct of participants by establishing a ‘working together’ agreement that sets out behavioural expectations.  Holding people accountable to expectations is far easier when these are explicit and shared by all group members.  Download our Working Together agreement to use with any group here.

5.  Over-ambitious Agendas

Cramming too many agenda items into a limited time-frame is a guarantee for meeting failure.  I have witnessed the effect of over-ambitious agendas where people feel stressed and overwhelmed.  This means poor quality decisions get made that eventually find their way back onto the agenda, taking up even more time.  Quality decisions at meetings take time but ultimately save time in the long run.  
Give realistic consideration to the time needed to adequately attend to agenda items and manage time accordingly.  This gives participants the ability to bring the best of themselves to the agenda item and achieves a significant sense of satisfaction in completing an agenda item well.

6.  Poor Participation

Meetings with limited participation are a waste of time.  Why have people show up to a room to hear someone talk at them for 2 hours while they idly sit by dying for the whole thing to be over?  Send them an email instead!  You only bring people together because there’s something to be gained that can’t be achieved otherwise.  

Use meeting processes that get people engaging with agenda items – questioning is an ideal tool to illicit participant ideas, thoughts, feelings, reactions etc.   Facilitators are process experts and design meetings for maximum participation.

7.  Hidden Agendas

What’s the real reason for a meeting?  It is common practice to present one motive for a meeting whilst in fact there’s an ulterior alternative.  Some meetings are called to ‘consult’ when in fact, a decision has already been made and the meeting is really a tick box exercise.  Participants see through the ‘consult’ and know it’s just an exercise – in this case, all that’s achieved is cynicism and resentment.  It's much more productive and effective to simply inform people of a decision and deal constructively with the response.  When emotions and feelings run high, a professional facilitator will be well placed to effectively 'manage' people and their passion.

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