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Bad Meeting Mistakes: Are You Guilty?

Disgruntled employees sit around a conference table

Hate meetings? Most people do. Yet many managers spend at least 35 to 50% of their work hours in meetings. Your frustration may stem from the fact that many meetings are poorly run. But what separates a bad meeting from good one?

We recently participated in a survey by Steven G. Rogelberg, PhD, a professor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and editor at the Journal of Business and Psychology who is working on the answer. Dr. Rogelberg studied the science behind bad meetings and the results will be published in his upcoming book The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance.

He gave us a preview of some of the top meeting frustrations revealed by thousands of meeting facilitators and employees, which include:

  1. Wasting time by wandering off point or having the discussion diverted to an irrelevant issue.
  2. Participants being unprepared for meetings, particularly pre-read materials or pre-work is requested.
  3. Either goals are not clear before attendees arrive, or there are no goals.
  4. No resolution or decision reached.
  5. No projected goals or action items for after the meeting.
  6. Meetings that are just not needed.
  7. A tendency to invite too many people to get anything done.
  8. Too many cooks in the kitchen or participants being invited to meetings that really are not relevant to them.
  9. A lack of focus due to multi-tasking attendees.

For his suggestions on how to avoid these meeting traps, you’ll need to pre-order his book. In the meantime, WeWork’s Creator blog offers some great tips on how to recover from a bad meeting.

“While not all meetings are going to be perfect, it’s possible to bounce back from an unproductive one,” writes author Samantha Pena, who recommends emailing action items, seeking feedback, and maybe even putting the meeting off altogether as strategies. “If you have taken great strides to improve the productivity of meetings and still find that people fail to attend, get distracted, and tune out what you have to say, consider canceling it entirely…Meetings that might have been useful at one point can lose their value, and it’s perfectly natural to eliminate wasted time to give people their working hours back.”


Certified Professional Facilitator Lynda Baker, president and founder of Austin, Texas-based MeetingSolution, offers another great guide entitled Six Culprits Guilty of Murdering Your Meetings (And How to Arrest Them).  Her advice:

  • Clearly communicate the meeting’s purpose in advance and design the agenda around achieving it.
  • Respect everyone’s time. Start wrapping up five to 10 minutes before the stated end time.
  • Be realistic with your agenda. Avoid what she calls “the agenda that ate Manhattan.”
  • Keep debates and monologues to a minimum. When someone threatens to hijack the discussion, she recommends asking, “”Can you tell us the specific point you are trying to make?”
  • Document decisions and manage follow-ups so that the same issues aren’t rehashed at the next meeting.

Well-run meetings can be pivotal for teams, projects and overall corporate culture but, Baker points out, they can be so difficult to achieve that—sometimes—you may need to enlist help.

“People crave community, yet they abhor meetings! The frustration comes from the seemingly inevitable and unsurmountable blocks to productivity,” she explains. “The key is to remove those blocks [so we can] accomplish more together than anyone of us can accomplish alone. That’s what excellent meeting facilitators are trained to do.”

So if you’re tired of hearing a collective moan every time you call a meeting, take a step back and consider the possible reasons why. Maybe it’s the way the meetings are organized, how they flow, who is expected to participate, or what happens (or doesn’t happen) afterwards that’s the problem.