How to Stop Having Stupid Staff Meetings

I asked the crowd, “Raise your hand if you’ve been to a really stupid staff meeting.” Every hand in the room went up.

“Keep your hand up, if you find most staff meetings in your career could have been more efficient.” Nearly all hands stayed raised, with the exception of the new kid, who’s in his first job, sitting next to his current boss. He grins knowingly and stays quiet.

Most meetings suck, but staff meetings are amongst the suckiest. Interestingly, my experience has been that the higher the pay grade of the people in the room, the more stupid they become. And, wasted time gets even more expensive.

Why? Because they’re usually scheduled at regular intervals for a pre-determined period of time, rather than for a specific purpose. Often there’s an agenda, but seldom a concrete plan on how to maximize the experience.

I asked, Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter: Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations about this phenomena:

“They’ve gotten bad because people aren’t thinking about them and take for granted that people will show up. Information sharing is never a good reason to meet–that can be done in different ways. If you don’t have topics that need real conversation, cancel the meeting. If you’ve got real substance to discuss, hold the meeting, but only for as long as you need, with the people who need to be there. Don’t add a “Let’s go around the table for general updates” to fill the time.

3 Great Conversations to Have at Staff Meetings

I asked Paul for some pointers for the best way to generate real conversations at staff meetings

1. Cultural Conversations

Use staff meetings to gain alignment on cultural issues and how you’re going to respond to specific situations. “Let’s kick this around” topics are great.

  • “Let’s talk about how we’re going to address supervisors who are getting great results the wrong way.”
  • “How are we going to respond when someone is chronically late?”
  • “What’s really getting in the way of people using our new system?”

2. The Elephant in the Room

Ask your team, “What are the conversations we’re not having that we should be having?” And then, go there.

3. How We Lead

“Let’s talk about how we’re leading our people. What’s working well? Where do we need help?” It’s particularly valuable to give people a chance to ask for help. “I’ve got this situation and I’d like to get your best thinking…” And then, watch colleagues think out loud about your situation.

Meetings matter. Don’t waste this important opportunity to build powerful connections.

Paul Axtell CREDIT Cindy OfficerFor more information about Paul and his book and for additional resources, visit his site. 

See Also: How to Hold a Better Post-Mortem Meeting


Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , .

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. Amen. I have seen it too often and have done it myself. Best intentions are usually there and can be good if you have a new team being pulled together. I do a lot of project work to for people to get an idea of what others on the team is doing nice introduction. But we frequently hold onto the meetings for too long.

    Longer term, I try to have and have been successful with full team meetings more as administrative updates which is consistent with Paul’s suggestion, gather feedback from the room. Let your team know you are listening and want their input.

    One of the challenges, I experience frequently is people feeling left out of discussions (task based meetings, not status meetings). When asked I will pull them into the meeting so that they get the update but frequently they don’t add much to the meeting. What do others do in this instance?

    • Mike, Great to have you in the conversation. My suggestion is ask provocative questions. What does everyone else think?

  2. So great to hear that someone has written a book about how to bring the zest back into staff meetings—I’ve used so many excuses to avoid them over the years because they were a waste of time.

    Meetings can be productive and meaningful but leadership needs to put some thought into them before dragging everyone away from their busy schedule…too often, it’s all about listening and creating real conversations.

    Loved this post!

  3. As a project manager, I see the approach to meetings should be to accomplish something that cannot be accomplished through other means. Define the goal. Might be one of the following … (1) consensus making, (2) planning, (3) calendar related decisions, (4) “how do we … ?”

    The next step is to create a list of Action Items for next meeting.

    Having a defined goal & action items frame the meeting. For me, this is how it works best. Then at beginning at the next meeting, review action items & begin to move forward. Later, rinse, & repeat.

  4. Couldn’t agree more! I often find they are billed as meetings but are presentations rather than discussions, tell rather than listen, talk at rather than to. The questions we don’t want to have to answer, we hope won’t be asked. The examples of questions you suggest Paul are so important and really need to be asked! As leaders we need to create an environment that feels safe to ask these questions and to value the time our team, colleagues/peers are giving out of their busy schedule to attend. Are we ticking a box or adding value?

  5. Most of the staff meetings I have been over the last few years have been very well managed: run through a robust agenda and kept to time. This article prompts to consider the question of asking deeper questions (e.g. the elephant in the room point) in those meetings.

    P.S. I submitted an article to the April Frontline Festival – looking forward to seeing it published and all the other contributions.

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