Only meet if the purpose is clear

October 31, 2018

Meetings. That key component of the working day, week, life. I don’t know about you, but I very often find myself in a meeting. Quite often, I find myself in that meeting, wondering what I am doing there.

So, I asked my team some questions.

Do you feel like you spend a lot of time in meetings? Yes. They really do.

Is it usually clear what the meeting is for? Well, no, only sometimes.

Do you ever find yourself in meetings where you’re not sure what you have to contribute? Yup. This happens too, leaving them wondering why they were invited in the first place, and trying to work out how to blag their way through (or out of) the meeting.

Coming up with some rules

Inquiry over, I decided to run an experiment. As a team, we agreed to commit to including the purpose of the meeting in every meeting request we sent for the next month. As the manager, I also gave everyone permission to do two things. First, if they received an invite and weren’t clear on the purpose, to write back and ask for this before committing to attend. Second, to politely decline invites, if they honestly felt they could not contribute to achieving the purpose of the meeting.

Rules of the experiment agreed, we set about it.


So what happened?

Well, I caught up with my team yesterday to find out.

For some, me included, having to stop and consider the purpose of each meeting, before firing off the invites, had a real impact. It meant we had to think through what we were looking to achieve and, moreover, be clear enough on this to be able to articulate it in one or two sentences.

Once the purpose was defined, it became easier to be more selective about who we sent the invites to. We knew what we wanted to know or do, so we could make a better informed decision about who we needed in the room.

On more than one occasion I found myself replying to a question from my team with “I’ll put in a meeting”. Once I’d paused long enough to try and articulate the purpose of this new meeting, I realised it wasn’t necessary at all. More often than not, it was a reaction to an unexpected and unscheduled question, which could more effectively be dealt with through a quick dose of advise, direct or diagnose. Hello, time-saving for everyone involved.

For others, being empowered to inquire about the purpose of a meeting before agreeing to attend had the biggest impact. It could enable them to make stronger contributions during the meeting, having had time to consider the purpose and prepare for the meeting. It also enabled them to avoid some meetings altogether, by articulating that they were not well placed to contribute on this particular topic, or by advising who would be a better fit for the purpose of the meeting.


An example for others

Most interestingly, our senior manager, not involved in or informed about the experiment, re-sent a series of regular meeting requests this same week, with the addition of a purpose statement in each. As a team, we can’t really get out of those meetings, but now at least we can hold ourselves and each other to account to use them for their defined purpose.

Oh and of course some people had completely forgotten. They promised to start from today. I’ll keep advocating for that.



This latest post in our ‘No More Unproductive Meetings’ series is a welcome return for guest contributor Katie Robertson, accredited VoicePrint practitioner and an experienced Programmes Director in the charity sector, sharing a useful rule that she and her team use before either inviting or agreeing to go to meetings.

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