Workplace Meetings – Not Necessarily a Necessary Evil


As part of my business, I conduct environmental scans of teams that are not functioning well – turnover is high, morale is low and chronic negativity abounds. As part of this process, I interview every team member – from administrative assistants to contractors to CEOs.

In each scan, a common theme of concern that arises is the dysfunction associated with “workplace meetings” – board meetings, staff meetings, team meetings, committee meetings – you name it – when the word “meeting” comes up, the groans begin.

The answer to this “distress” does not lie in abandoning meetings altogether. In fact, the lack of in-person meetings and group discussions is of equal concern to team members. And rightly so. Having too few team meetings creates as much dysfunction as having too many. In this era of emails, texts and “instant messenger”, many workplaces have lost the creative synergies that awaken when colleagues come together to discuss and debate ideas. Further, assigning tasks and agenda items at one meeting, when run effectively, is far more efficient and less time-consuming than having endless communication pass through a “group email”.

The answer lies in running an efficient and productive meeting. The attached article sets out five key factors to consider when running a meeting, all of which I applaud. However, the article misses a critical point. Meetings must also be respectful. I have heard countless (and rather shocking) accounts of dismissive, rude and condescending behaviour that is tolerated during board meetings, staff meetings and otherwise.

As a result of this poor behaviour, many individuals refuse to attend meetings or refuse to actively participate. The meetings are approached with apathy, fear anddread. The purpose of the meeting – to make key decisions, share relevant information or plan future projects/events – is lost and “trumped” by the destructive unmanaged dynamics within the room.

The types of dysfunction that I consistently hear about:

  • One individual taking over. Some participants monopolize the discussion at the expense of others who lose the opportunity share their views because time has run out. Individuals “turn off” when particular individuals speak because they have grown accustomed to them “taking over” and “going on and on”.
  • One individual turning his/her opinion into a fact . “This is the way it is”. There are some individuals who may not take up a lot of time in the meetings but shut down dialogue because of their overbearing manner and approach. The tone and content of their message is all about them being right and contrary opinions being wrong. When they stop speaking, and different viewpoints are shared, they “turn off” either through non-verbal shrugging, rolling of the eyes, sighing, smirking or whispering to their neighbouring participants. In extreme cases, they simply leave the room.
  • Personalized attacks of those with different opinions: in some circumstances, instead of addressing the content of someone’s opinion, a participant attacks the personal attributes of the person conveying that message. This can include attacks against both meeting participants and meeting leaders. “What do you know – you aren’t a ________ (fill in the blank with a particular profession or position on the organizational chart)” “What do you know –you’ve only been here for _____ years”. This shuts down any substantive discussion and creates a personalized “battleground” where the responses back to that person are equally disrespectful (or non-existent).
  • Misunderstanding the difference between consultation and consensus: too many teams have too many meetings to ensure that “everyone gets on the same page”. This sometimes happens, but often doesn’t. Meetings are important to ensure that everyone’s viewpoints are heard and carefully considered. However, at some point, the leader (or the designate for a particular decision) has to make a decision. Too many teams flounder with a lack of clarity, decisiveness and well, leadership. Participants lose patience with meetings that “go around and around in circles” with no closure. Consultation is necessary – consensus is not.
  • Revisiting decisions that have been made: after decisions are made, the same issue is revisited/reconsidered in subsequent meetings, without a clear understanding of why this is necessary.
  • Certainly, if there has been an operational shift, or a change in direction from “above”, then a team may need to review a decision at some point in time. However, in most situations, teams need to refrain from constantly reconsidering and rehashing decisions that have been finalized.
  • Failing to follow through and follow up with commitments that had been made at a previous meeting.
  • Failing to control the disrespect in the room. In this situation, the leader of the meeting (who may or may not be a supervisor/manager/executive), allows disrespectful conduct and commentary to take place without shutting it down, including disrespectful comments towards them. Alternatively, the leader responds at the same “disrespectful” level as the participant who initiated the attack, making others in the room even more uncomfortable. Even worse, it is the leader who is exhibiting the dysfunctional behaviour. A leader needs to respectfully call out disrespectful behaviour, shut it down and move forward with the meeting agenda, acting as a role model for “respect”.

Successful and profitable teams know how to make meetings a tool of success, not a step towards failure. They develop and instill meeting norms that include:

  • Ensuring every voice is heard – introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between is given relatively equal “air time”.
  • Ensuring there are basic rules for how “disagreements” are discussed, including non-negotiable conditions regarding respectful treatment of others.
  • Ensuring there is an understanding of how decisions are made and communicated, including the establishment of clear lines of responsibility/authority for decision-making.
  • Outlining the circumstances in which operational/strategic decisions may be revisited (and restricting the amount of “revisiting” in the absence of these circumstances).
  • Effectively addressing dysfunctional behaviour in meetings, both “in the moment” by shutting it down and subsequently, through proper accountability and performance management.

The bottom line? Meetings are inevitable but may inevitably save you time, money and headaches if done well. Consider this article: – and the points set out above – and then call a meeting to discuss.

– Marli Rusen

Are you hearing words like “bullying”, “toxic” and “harassment” being used to describe behaviour by a particular team member or leader? If so, the MIRROR Method course is exactly what you need.

Introductory MIRROR Method Workshops are running in Prince George – Oct 20, Victoria – Oct 21, Parksville – Oct 28 and Vancouver – Nov 3.

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