From painful schoolyard confabs gossiping about who should receive valentines and who should not, from parliamentary assemblies so confused by amendments to amendments to amendments that a bucket of Drano couldn’t get the meeting unstuck, to conferences so tedious we caught up on the year’s sleep deficit, we all recall meeting disasters. I will list a few.
- Meetings where there is no apparent agenda and the facilitator sits clueless about how to move the meeting along.
- Meetings where expectations are perfectly unclear.
- Meetings so stultifyingly boring that fantasies of being fired illicit orgasms of joy.
- Meetings where a handful dominate while dozens remain silent.
- Meetings dominated by men with few women present.
- Meetings absent of diversity and marked by groupthink.
- Meetings attended by people from a variety of cultures but dominated by the majority culture, usually white.
- Meetings where experts drone on about technical topics illustrated by PowerPoint slides that no one could see.
- Meetings where senior officials mandate new policies and line employees who know the policies will not work are never asked their opinions.
- Meetings where half the participants are checking their smartphones, writing emails, and wondering what to cook for dinner. The other half dreams of Hawaii.
- Meetings where the next steps are ignored. The same meeting with the same ideas is repeated annually.
- Meetings constrained with limits on how long an individual can speak, resulting in anger, frustration, and being cut-off.
- Meetings so polarized and divided that people vow never to attend another meeting again.
One commentator reports that our blue and green planet experiences 85 million meetings every day. The United States alone has 25 million each day. Whew! Without attending each one, I know there is plenty of room for improvement.
We need fewer meetings that waste our time, frustrate our dreams, and force us to consider becoming a hermit. We need fewer meetings dominated by a few and that lack energy and imagination.
We need meetings where the excitement is palpable, the energy pulsating, and the results tangible and clear. We need meetings where participants are fully present and engaged. We need meetings that look like a mosaic of humanity with vibrant, creative results.
Mark Smutny is a professional facilitator, consultant, author, and founder of Civic Reinventions, Inc. He helps organizations uncover the wisdom in their diversity, build cohesion, and achieve their goals. He draws upon decades of facilitating meetings, leading retreats, and working with nonprofits and businesses. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.