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Making Meetings Meaningful

“Sure – let’s book a meeting.”  Five simple words which can elicit many reactions – too often of the negative variety.  In recent years, and particularly since the normalization of post-COVID hybrid and remote work arrangements, workplace meetings are increasingly seen as an unavoidable evil.

It wasn’t always this way, though.  After all, the meeting of teammates united by a single cause, working in the same (physical or virtual) room, has often resulted in great successes in the areas of solving complex problems or designing innovative responses to emerging issues.

So, what went wrong and how can we reclaim meetings as meaningful vehicles to support the achievement of organizational goals?  Let’s explore some common meeting pitfalls and learn how to avoid them:


Couldn’t This Have Been an Email?”

With thanks at least in part to the pandemic, most businesses have increased the number of communication tools available for use between team members.  In addition to traditional email, most organizations will also employ instant messaging software, physical or online message boards, group texting channels, or other mechanisms as a means to disseminate basic information to a large audience as quickly as possible.  As a result, calling everyone together in a traditional town-hall forum is no longer necessary – or recommended – for one-sided communication.  In fact, to accommodate different learning styles, it can be better to use electronic means to disseminate basic “messaging out.” Not only does this allow control of the products and messages being circulated, but it also allows team members time to process and understand the concepts being communicated.


Tips for Success: Before you call a meeting, consider – do you simply need to communicate a message out?  If yes, do you really need to bring people together and take them away from their regular daily tasks?  Unless you are specifically looking to practice a speech or presentation on a live audience in order to solicit feedback which may improve the final product, don’t call a meeting which will be perceived as a lecture.  Work with your corporate human resources or communications team to determine the best way to get your messages to your audience.  If your goal is to get feedback on an idea, project, or product –consider the potential need for some team members to have time to review it first.  If needed, consider an appropriate timeline for a subsequent discussion meeting which is thoughtfully designed to maximize participant engagement and capture feedback which can be used in improving your final outputs.


“Why am I Even Here?”

We’ve all experienced it.  Someone, often in a position of senior leadership, summons team members to a central time and place.  No agenda has been set in advance.  When the meeting leader finally starts the proceedings, the purpose of everyone’s shared time together isn’t clearly articulated; and roles for individual participants aren’t defined.  No one feels comfortable to ask for clarification, and team members are potentially unprepared to contribute to discussions in a meaningful way.  As a result, most participants spend the time multi-tasking on their devices or otherwise not fully listening to what’s going on.  After it’s over, the water cooler talk isn’t about the problem to be solved, but rather how everyone feels their time was wasted.

Tips for Success:  If you are the person responsible for convening a meeting, clearly outline the purpose and desired outcomes in your invitation.  In fact, it might be a good idea to take some time to carefully consider the list of invitees as a first step.  Are the people you’re inviting equipped to speak to the identified issue?  Do they have the authority to make decisions?  Are invitees generally at the same level of corporate hierarchy or are there significant power imbalances which could hinder open and honest communication?  Next, make your case for why people should agree to spend their time with you.  Ideally, distribute an agenda in advance, one in which the expectation for attendees is clearly outlined.  For example, is it clear that the end goal is simply to brainstorm ideas; or are there decisions to be made which may require the subsequent design of an implementation plan?  Finally, even with all of this excellent preparation under your belt – don’t leave anything to chance.  On the day of the meeting, as you begin proceedings, make time at the start of the agenda to set the context – remind people of why they’re there and what you hope to achieve – and actively seek everyone’s understanding of these points.  When people understand why they’re in the room and how they can help support success, you will motivate them to participate.


 “What’s the Point – My Input Isn’t Wanted”

This meeting pitfall can take two forms, both of which can be equally uncomfortable for participants:

In the first scenario, the meeting leader may suggest that a certain element is open for discussion.  However, when someone finds the courage to speak up – either in requesting more information or clarity; or even offering a respectful challenge to the concept – they are dismissed or criticized.  The room goes silent, and the lack of subsequent discussion is erroneously interpreted for approval.

In the second scenario, the meeting leader is open to a healthy debate of ideas but allows only a small number of voices to dominate the discussion.  Other participants who have ideas to contribute are discouraged from speaking up; and important perspectives may be missed in consideration of final decisions.

Tips for Success:  In today’s business world, the ability to receive constructive feedback and the ability to demonstrate general meeting leadership are two greatly underrated skills.  With regards to receiving constructive feedback – if you’re not truly prepared to entertain debate or discussion on an idea, why would you ask people to come together for that purpose in the first place?  Not all decisions in business can be collaborative.  If you must implement a policy, project, or direction without considering your team members’ input, your efforts are better directed towards meetings which are structured to help them understand the direction and support them in their implementation efforts.  In relation to meeting leadership, do your homework about your participants in advance.  Will you need to monitor certain participants’ airtime, so they don’t impede the ability of others to participate? Will you need to specifically solicit the participation of more introverted team members to ensure all viewpoints are heard?  Taking the time to prepare to address the needs of all your meeting attendees will help to build collective commitment and buy-in to the meeting’s outcomes.


“Wait – How Did We End Up Here?”

Too many times, a group meeting is convened as a proxy for a conversation that someone is reluctant to have.  For example, perhaps a team leader is struggling with a particular team member’s absenteeism, performance, or ability to achieve assigned targets.  The team leader is not equipped to have a direct conversation about the topic on a one-to-one basis.  As an alternative, they haul the entire team, including high achievers, into a boardroom to be told that there are issues with attention to detail, productivity, client satisfaction, and so on.  The high achievers are left confused as this doesn’t line up with the feedback they have received in other forums. Conversely, the intended targets believe the articulated messages don’t apply to them, because no one has taken the time to help them understand that they are not meeting expectations.  Rather than solving a clear and well-defined problem, the meeting becomes a vehicle for widespread dissatisfaction, and possibly even disengagement.

Tips for Success: Particularly as a people leader, be honest with yourself about how to manage your interactions with your team members.  Seek out training solutions or a mentor to help develop the skills to effectively hold individual team members accountable for their actions.  Don’t use group meetings to avoid the difficult (but necessary) conversations that are better had with individual contributors.  Doing so could lead to unpleasant, unintended consequences for team morale!



Rallying team members to bring their diverse perspectives, lived experiences, and knowledge bases to support corporate problem solving can increase team engagement, and reduce the risks of groupthink.  Workplace meetings can be an effective tool to build energy and excitement around ideas, and often find innovative solutions that individuals may not be able to design independently.  By investing effort in the thoughtful planning of how to involve your team, it is possible to make meetings meaningful!


About the Author: Anoushka Fernandes, Vice President – Growth & Integration, X5 Management

Anoushka has over twenty years of executive leadership experience in the private, non-profit, and public sectors.  She is passionate about investing in the development of organizational leaders at all levels and in cultivating strong workplace cultures which take a client-first approach.

Over the course of her career, she has developed an excellent reputation as a trusted advisor in areas as diverse as organizational design; diversity, equity, and inclusion; governance models; conflict resolution; and employee engagement and retention.  In addition to her official titles, Anoushka is a dedicated volunteer who served as a Board member with several non-profit associations in the professional development, performing arts, and cultural sectors.

Anoushka is excited to bring her love of relationship-building to her role at X5 Management, where she supports elevating the company’s brand, team, client base, and service offerings.




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