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When I ask friends and colleagues what bugs them about meetings they attend, the most common answer I get is pointless meetings – or “meeting just for the sake of meeting.” They don’t understand why they have to attend meetings at which there is no clear agenda or goal.
Frankly, I don’t blame them.
One of my top priorities when helping to plan any meeting is to understand the PURPOSE of the meeting. Why are you gathering? What are you hoping to accomplish? How do you want people to feel? What do you want to come out of the meeting?
If you can’t answer those questions about a meeting you are hosting or attending, there are two possible reasons: one, the meeting really isn’t necessary; or two, there is a purpose but no one has articulated it.
Both of these options are a problem.
I bet you clicked on this article because you want me to say, “STOP HAVING THESE MEETINGS.” I’ll get to the reasons why you might cancel meetings like this, but first I want you to consider another option – maybe there IS a purpose to these meetings, but you haven’t found it yet. Maybe you can shift your meeting from POINTLESS to PURPOSEFUL.
Redefining the Purpose of a Recurring Meeting
If your staff, committee, or department only met when you had an urgent issue to discuss, how would that change your organization? Before you say, “for the better, of course!” I want to challenge you to think of what would be lost if you didn’t see your colleagues on a regular basis.
WHY are you having these recurring meetings in the first place? It’s time to uncover and re-emphasize those purposes.
First, recurring meetings create a standing opportunity for a group (however you define it) to touch base with each other, much like the family dinner table. Sitting around a table together to “check in” can offer staff or working groups the opportunity to make personal and professional connections, catch up on projects, and address new issues that arise. The problem is that this purpose – keeping people in touch with each other – has devolved into the “check in” go-round for too many teams. Rather than catching up with each other on what matters, you’re just going through the motions and barely listening to each other.
Second, recurring meetings can foster and sustain team commitment. Used well, time together as a team reminds you that you are there for each other, that you are “in it together,” and that you can help each other achieve the mission of your organization or group. The problem, again, is that we aren’t using staff meetings this way because we aren’t stating this purpose out loud or shaping our agenda around it.
Third, recurring meetings are the perfect place to solve organization or program-wide challenges or pursue collective opportunities. When you have a team together in a room, using that time to tackle something that serves everyone’s interest makes good use of everyone’s time. Everyone has a stake in the conversation at hand so they are less likely to check out. But for some reason, we often schedule separate meeting for these projects instead of discussing them during our regularly scheduled time.
Fourth, the very nature of a recurring meeting offers a predictable and reliable setting in which issues can be raised (positive or challenging). Every member of the team knows, for example, that the group meets every two weeks. If there is space on the agenda to raise questions, ideas, or challenge then individuals know exactly when and where to bring those up. But do we save that space?
Why can’t meetings be places where work is actually done? If a group decision needs to be made, an idea needs to be brainstormed, or a set of goals needs to be developed, then why not use your recurring meeting to make that happen? Likewise, you can use meetings very strategically to check in on common goals and agreed-upon tasks. The more you bring these up in meetings with expectations of progress, the more you boost accountability.
Shaping your Agenda around your Purpose
If we can agree that the four purposes above are logical reasons to hold recurring meetings, then we must shape our agenda around them in a public and transparent way. That starts with one important assumption – that we actually have an agenda for every recurring meeting. We get lazy about agendas, don’t we? We feel like they are unnecessary or too formal for certain settings. But I would argue that dropping the agenda is the first step in losing the purpose of our recurring meetings.
So what’s the alternative?
I’m not here to argue that recurring team meetings must always be structured in rigid ways; an agenda, after all, should reflect the group’s goals. But I am here to argue that an agenda should exist, preferably one that blends predictable elements with timely adjustments.
From Pointless to Purposeful:
How to Shift the Agenda at Recurring Meetings
Below is a chart outlining each of the 5 goals for a recurring meetings, how we often see them represented, and how we can more intentionally integrate them into an agenda:
Deciding when to Cancel a Meeting
While my first piece of advice is to re-examine the purpose of your meeting and improve the time you spend together, there are also going to be times when meetings don’t need to happen. If you develop a stronger recurring meeting practice and agenda that you stick to, you’ll know better when this is the case. Without it, you risk cancelling just because no one had thought about why you need to meet.
Ask yourself, and ask your potential attendees:
- Does the group need some time to connect after a lot of time apart? (CONNECTIONS)
- Could our sense of team cooperation use a boost? (TEAM BUILDING)
- Do individuals on the team have issues they’d like to raise with the group? (OPEN SPACE)
- Are there collective and time sensitive projects that we need to be in the same room to discuss? (COLLECTIVE WORK)
- Is there a task we need to achieve that would be more efficient if we were all together? Did we assign tasks at our last meeting that we need to follow up on? (OUTCOMES)
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions then there is likely a good reason to meet. But if you can truly answer NO to all of them then you have a perfectly logical reason to call this meeting off an let folks get other work done. This is often the case if the group has just finished a large project together or if everyone in the group is incredibly busy with individual projects that won’t benefit from time spent with the group.
Cancel carefully, and use a cancellation to demonstrate the intentionality of your approach to recurring meetings. They have a purpose, and if that purpose won’t be reasonably served with the next one scheduled, then we’re going to wait.
SO…what will you do to change your next recurring meeting from POINTLESS to PURPOSEFUL? Need some help making the transition? Contact me for a meeting planning consult! I’d be happy to help.