What is the Purpose of a Meeting?

Simply, a meeting is intended to bring the right people together to accomplish some important task at the right point in time. Many people find meetings to be distractions from getting work done. Perhaps some improvement might change that.

It’s been my experience that there are only a few reasons to have a meeting. There are many tools that can help in accomplishing the intended purpose:

    1. Structured Process
    1. Using Command, Consultative, or Consensus styles
    1. Combination of Graphics, Data and Words
    2. Walk-Around
    3. Handouts
    1. Gap Analysis (Current, Future, and Transition)
    2. External Environmental Assessment
    3. Internal Assessment
    4. SIPOC (Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer)
    5. SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)
    6. Value Proposition (Need, Approach, Benefits, Competition)
    7. SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Oriented, Time Bound)
    8. Project Planning (scope (including deliverables)
    9. Schedule (including dependencies)
    10. Cost (labor, material, travel)
    11. Risk (occurrence and severity)
    12. Driving and Restraining Forces
    1. Five-Step Process
    2. Fishbone Diagram
    3. Affinity and Priority
    4. Brainstorming
    5. Picture Map
    6. Mind Map
    7. Advantages & Disadvantages
    8. Process Flow (Core and Enabling, Swim lanes)
    1. Adult Learning
    2. Experiential Learning
    3. Coaching

Most meetings end up addressing more than one purpose. For example, decision making frequently morphs into conflict resolution. In all fairness, even focusing on only one purpose, a good, skilled and prepared facilitator can help.

Over the years, I’ve gathered feedback about meetings. The following table identifies what people think constitutes a bad meeting and what could make it a good meeting.

Boring Interesting; Lively; Constructive and Professional Discussion; Deal with Pleasant and Unpleasant Topics; Relevant to Me
Useless; Waste of Time Productive; Got Something Done (Maybe More than Expected); Effective; Got Information I Need to do my Job; Right People in the Room
Poorly Planned; Poorly Managed Agenda Published Ahead of Time; Agenda Followed; Efficient; Achieved Objectives; Ran to the Schedule
Don’t Know Why I’m Here Objectives and Agenda Published Ahead of the Meeting; Purposeful; Understand Context, Rationale, and Importance; Clear Objectives Stated
Too Long Ends on Time (or Early); Assigned and Managed Time Slots for Each Topic
Too Serious Light-Hearted; Laughter
Don’t Get a Chance to Express My Opinion Opportunity for Everyone to Speak
People Dominate the Conversation Facilitated; Participants Protected
Depressing Energizing

One of my bosses (I’ll let him remain nameless) had a once a week meeting with his direct reports. That was ten to twelve people. We all sat around a big conference table with the boss (notice that I didn’t call him a leader) sitting in the middle chair on one side. He would go around the table and ask each person to provide a report on what had happened in the last week and their currently focus. Usually, nobody else could have possibly given a rat’s litterbox about anything that was said. None of the topics related to anyone else other than the boss and that direct report. Wow, that hit many of the things in the “Bad Meeting” column.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mr. Czerniak retired after a successful career that culminated in fifteen years of experience as an internal consultant and “change agent.” He is currently an Expert-in-Residence at the Macomb-Oakland University Incubator and a volunteer with the Troy Historic Village and Historical Society and the Michigan Floral Association.

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