Criteria to generate a virtuous cycle for meetings

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How do you make meetings more compelling? This is the latest of a series of blog posts discussing how to transition from making meetings mandatory to having an organization with meetings that people actually want to attend.

Many meetings are not compelling, they are just required.  Meetings should be required to be compelling. I previously discussed some alternatives to even calling a meeting – if it is unidirectional communication, then a meeting isn’t necessary. In today’s post, I discuss the criteria for what makes a meeting useful and compelling, and thus not required to be mandatory.

Your basic goal should not be attendance at the meeting.  Your goal should be instead to create value in the meeting, whether it is a large group meeting or a small team meeting.

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

1)     the meeting’s attendees bring some value to the employee

2)     the employee brings some value to the meeting’s attendees

3)     the anticipated value exceeds the value of the employee not attending and doing regular work

4)     the meeting’s content and interaction makes the employee’s regular work unstuck, better, easier, more efficient, or compelling

5)     change in the employee’s regular work is required post-meeting

When you look at these set of criteria, you’ll notice that the more value you create, the more likely you’ll get attendance.  So instead of chasing attendance, you should be creating value.  The more of these criteria you meet, the more likely you are going to create value.  Then, the more value you create, the more attendees.  The more attendees creating value, the more value created.  This is the virtuous cycle of meetings.  Yes, meetings don’t have to be awful.  They can actually provide value for your organization – if done well.

You’ll notice in this set of criteria, you don’t need everyone to attend—just the ones who will derive value or create value.  So making a meeting mandatory would disrupt the virtuous cycle, because you’ll have people who are neither creating nor deriving value from the meeting.  Get them out of there.

Think about the last few meetings you’ve attended:  How many of the above five criteria were met?

Now think about the typical “project status update” meeting.  Do any of the criteria get met?

Think about the typical weekly team meeting.  Do any of the criteria get met?

Now think about a group meeting (40+ people).  Do any of the criteria get met?

If the answer to these questions is “Not many” or “Not typically,” these are meetings that are candidates for not taking place at all.

Now think of meetings where two, three, or more of the criteria were met.  What was the meeting called for?  Who attended?  What happened during the meeting that helped meet the criteria?  What went into the planning?

Now, moving forward on meetings you have this scheduled this week.  Look at them and anticipate how many of the criteria are likely to be met.  The best meetings will have all five criteria met.  The worst (and, I fear, most common) will have zero.  These “zero criteria meetings” are the ones where people try not to attend, and they should certainly not be called mandatory.  The ones with all five will have buzz and positive outcomes.

For you aspiring management designers out there, are managers expected to meet these criteria when they call meetings?  Are they ever rated on these criteria?  Or do we rely on managers to bypass these things that create value and instead allow managers make short cuts and call “mandatory” meetings?

In future blog posts, I’ll discuss how to drive toward meeting these criteria in your meetings.

In the mean time, how many criteria are typically met in your meetings?  Which ones are the worst?  Which ones are the best?

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

Making it a mandatory meeting sabotages the meeting

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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 .


6 Responses to “Criteria to generate a virtuous cycle for meetings”
  1. Sue says:

    Do you have any suggestions on how to politely decline a mandatory meeting that your manager has set up; especially those that are either before or after normal work hours?

  2. Hi Sue,

    One idea is that there may be a policy or something in the work agreement about when “normal work hours” are at your company (which were developed perhaps to precisely set expectations for when you can and cannot be “required” to attend work). So if the meeting is scheduled outside of these hours, you can say, as you decline, “Unfortanately, I’m not able to attend outside of the company’s normal work hours at this time.” Another idea, should this policy not be found anywhere, would be to say, “I’m unable to attend as this is outside of normal work hours. However, I look forward to the notes from the meeting and catching up with you (the boss) or a co-worker who I know will attend and take notes of the events.” It’s always tough, since managers seem to employ this peculiar requirement especially when it doesn’t seem to have a basis in increasing the capacity of the team to perform, and the general ramifications of not attending seem to be always present, despite attendance at a mandatory meeting not usually being related to your direct productivity.


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