Karin’s Leadership Articles

3 Reasons Your Meeting is a Waste of Time

by | Mar 27, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

“Okay, we need everyone’s full attention so here are the meeting rules. No texting. No sidebars. Full participation.”

If you have to start your meeting with ultimatums, something is wrong. Sure you could scold the team into paying attention. Better yet, figure out why they don’t want to.

3 Reasons Your Meeting is a Waste of Time

Wrong Purpose

One of my favorite posts submitted for the Frontline Festival was Jesse Lynn Stoner’s “No More Boring Meetings” The worst meetings are a one-way dump of information. These are meetings of “convenience,” for the leader. The leader asks for “updates” from each team member.

If you do not have a clear purpose for having a meeting, don’t have it. “We always have staff calls on Tuesdays,” does not count as a purpose. Articulate the purpose of the gathering at the outset (or even on the agenda). “By the end of the hour we will have made 4 decisions.”

Wrong People

If you need the decision maker– get her. Nothing frustrates a team more than debating and issue, reaching consensus, and then finding that they were missing key information or that a key stakeholder was not invited. Consider who must be included up front for which portions. Don’t waste time by having people sit through irrelevant topics until their subject comes up. You will gain great respect by honoring other people’s time.

Wrong Process

Determine the appropriate process up front. Unstructured meetings squander time. Create dialogue around topics that matter. Everyone does not need to speak on every topic. But if someone is tuning out, tune in and figure out why. Watch nonverbals. Invite factions to share their side bars with the group. If the meeting gets swonky, take a time out and check in with a few opinion leaders during the break.

You want people leaving your meeting saying, “now that was a great meeting.” “we accomplished so much.”

Great meetings should save time, not waste time.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Bob

    “Swonky”…Now I had to look that up! Swonky = “Drunk and sketchy” according to the urban dictionary. I will use that today. 🙂

    I read a book late last year called “Read This Before Our Next Meeting; The Modern Meeting Standard.” by Al Pittampalli. If you haven’t read it, the ideas in there are pretty inspiring! I definitely suggest it!

    He talks about some of the same things you outline. One of the main take-aways I had from that book is that meetings should expose conflict. Most of the meetings I have attended were an attempt to avoid conflict. That needs to change.

    How do I ensure meetings are a good use of time?

    Be present. Be honest. Be prepared.

    • Matt McWilliams (@MattMcWilliams2)

      HAHA Bob! I guess I glossed over that word. I like it.

      Swonky…might be mistaken for swanky, in which participants suddenly expect a $500,000 chandelier to drop from the ceiling and caviar to be served.

      • letsgrowleaders

        Matt, as you may have guessed, I’m not the caviar type

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Bob, thanks so much. I will add that book to my list. Expose conflict… that’s a great one. I have been to so many meetings that avoid the conflict, and then it all gets worse in sidebars after the fact.

  3. Jackie

    I just shared this with my boss….

  4. Matt McWilliams (@MattMcWilliams2)

    Takeaway of the Day: Great meetings should save time, not waste time.

    That means if there are 10 people each taking 2 hours (prep time plus meeting time) that it must save at LEAST 20 collective hours. Great way to look at it.

  5. Lisa K

    A problem I wrestle with in my work with volunteer groups: People become immune to emails, google groups, and other forms of Group Info Postings. Because of this, face to face info-dump meetings are necessary in my experience – especially with volunteer-teams. It is frustrating to me because I strongly feel that the information could easily be disseminated via email/post, and then we could avoid unnecessary dump-meetings! Any ideas on how to make these necessary Info Dumps less icky? Or tips on how to get people to PAY ATTENTION to emails/posts in order to avoid icky dump meetings?

    • letsgrowleaders

      Ahhh, Lisa. First of all you are fantastic at coordinating volunteers with a wonderful magic. I am hesitant to offer advice… but since you asked…

      I personally hate almost any meetings associated with volunteer efforts. I understand that they are sometimes vital, but… After spending all day (or week) in meetings, the last thing in the world I want to do is to head to a meeting after dinner or on a Saturday. To me, the joy in the volunteering is in the doing, so I shy away from gigs (or leaders) that like lots of meetings.

      One trick that may work is to get buy-in up front from the group in the first meeting on exactly how they want to get info (with a commitment to respond in a certain timeframe) when it comes in that manner. If everyone agrees up front that may help. For example, if it’s a one way dump, just asking everyone to respond back with a “got it.”

      I also think conference calls are significantly underutilized in many volunteer organizations. Often the commute time is longer than the meeting, which could deter some very able volunteers. Text message distributions may work for quick reminders.

      My other thought labelling of the emails, ACTION REQUIRED or VERY IMPORTANT, and avoid anything that will involve a reply to all, which clogs emails and makes everyone start to ignore the string.

      Google groups are more tricky, because they may require people to actually go to another site… and many folks are not able to check google at work.

      Volunteering is so important. And I know many in our Let’s Grow Leaders Community are very active in leading volunteers. Let me put it out to the village…. Anyone have any great tricks here?

  6. kwillkom

    These are great. Quite often in our office, we’ll break out during a meeting into sub-groups to do a quick five-minute brainstorm then come back together to share with the large group. This engages everyone and increases productivity. If your three bullets were present in these meetings, I think we’d still have a lot of issues! Great post.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Kyle, thanks so much. Great to have you joining our community. Actually, your raise another very important point. Breaking out into smaller groups can help a lot. Such a great way to jump-start thinking on several ideas at once.

  7. Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)

    Great post.

    I like all three points.

    I think followup is critical to followthrough. With thorough followup and followthrough people will see that meetings generate results. Over time, they will learn to expect this from meetings. Thereby, producing meetings that produce results.

    To the person who coordinates volunteers. Same boat. This very well may not work for you, but we have had huge success with two things. One, text messaging. Forces us to get our point of information out in 160 characters. Two, a blog we use for longer bits of info. The active comments help the conversation move along. And three, I never lead the meetings. I have a volunteer lead a volunteer meeting. I’m there for support, encouragement and to be a resource. I’ve found that other volunteers can best filter what actually needs shared. I often want to over share with volunteers.

  8. Zicson

    great lectures this noon.
    it add to my leadership ego.

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