Making it a mandatory meeting sabotages the meeting

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A common management practice is to make a meeting mandatory.  I’ve seen regular team meetings that are called “mandatory”, “all hands” meetings that are called mandatory, special presentations with the group leadership that are mandatory.  Lots of mandatory stuff going around!  The problem is that if you feel compelled to call a meeting mandatory, it probably isn’t a very good meeting.  In fact, if the tag “mandatory” has been added, then it is a sign that it’s going to be a low quality meeting.

When calling a meeting, the goal ought to be that you don’t feel compelled to call it mandatory. If you do feel compelled to get attendance by invoking the mandatory card, you should consider not having the meeting at all.  Lack of employee interest a leading indicator that the meeting is going to be a bad meeting for all parties. 

When forcing people to attend, all of the people who did not otherwise want to attend are going to hate being there, and feel annoyance toward those who called and led the meeting.  In addition, employees are good at predicting that they not likely to get anything out of the meeting.  When they are proven correct, it is now confirmed that it was a waste of time for both you and the employees.

There are a few more issues to consider when invoking the mandatory meeting.  Let’s focus on the people who don’t want to attend the mandatory meeting.  After all, this is your target market when you invoke the mandatory tag.

Here are the dynamics that people who don’t want to be there create:

  1. They will talk about how they don’t want to be there
  2. They will describe why they don’t want to be there to those who may otherwise have wanted to attend
  3. They will predict the annoying things that will happen at the meeting
  4. They will cite the loss of productivity that their attendance creates
  5. They will cite the loss of productivity that the attendance of everyone else creates
  6. They will not be participative during the meeting
  7. They will respond negatively to what the meeting leaders will say and do
  8. They will discourage others from responding positively to what the meeting leaders say and do
  9. They will do things both subtle and overt to disrupt the flow of the meeting, such as arrive late, interrupt, check email, scoff, put their heads down in disgust, and leave early, to name a few
  10. After the meeting, they will talk about how the meeting was a waste of time
  11. After the meeting, they will pull those who otherwise wanted to attend to their view that the meeting was not necessary
  12. After the meeting, they will not take any action related to what was discussed at the meeting

Given this dynamic, there is high risk in making sure that people who don’t want to attend get to the meeting.  It means that your meeting is sabotaged prior to it even happening!

It would be much less risky to not require meeting attendance, even if there is some crucial information that needs to be conveyed.  This way, at least, you get the following information that you would not have received if it was deemed mandatory.

Here’s what you could learn if you don’t make the meeting mandatory, and instead just call the meeting:

  1. Who feels the meeting is useful and who doesn’t
  2. The percentage of people on your team or in your group who find that the meeting is of value
  3. Whether the topic and activities made the meeting more compelling
  4. Who feels interested and capable of taking action from what is discussed in the meeting
  5. What is considered crucial information (if there is any), and what isn’t

So my tip for today is:  Consider taking the “mandatory” label off of any meetings you lead.  See what happens and use the information to learn about what you can do differently next time.  This is the first step to learning how to facilitate better meetings. Otherwise, you risk creating (further) alienation, missing important data about the quality of your meetings, and possibly, you may find ways to reduce waste that you and your management team create.

But wait, there’s more!  In my next post, I’ll cite even more reasons you should avoid calling meetings “mandatory”.  And in future posts I’ll discuss how you can change this negative dynamic that mandatory meetings create into a positive dynamic.

Have you ever been compelled to make a meeting mandatory?  What happened?  Did the meeting go well?  What would have happened if you didn’t make it mandatory?

Related Posts:

Nine simple tips to make meetings more compelling

A leading indicator for team performance: Chart your meeting quality

The first step to getting out of the mandatory meeting cycle: Don’t call meetings if you were planning one-way communication

More reasons mandatory meetings are bad for you and bad for your team

Five tips for reducing drama on your team

An example of giving specific and immediate feedback and a frightening look into the alternatives

What it really means when a manager swings by and asks, “You doing OK?”

The myth of “one good thing, one bad thing” on a performance review

Public feedback drives performance down and doesn’t count as performance management

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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  2. […] Here is my set of criteria for what compels an employee to attend any meeting, whether or not it is deemed mandatory: […]

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