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

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In my previous post, I discussed why mandatory meetings create a bad dynamic for your group or your team.  The post centered on the cycle that the people who don’t want to attend – the ones that compelled you to make it mandatory – end up sabotaging your meeting anyway, making it a bad experience for you, the ones who wanted to attend, and the ones who didn’t want to attend.

But there are more reasons you should consider not making any meetings mandatory.  And here they are:

Reason number 1: You can’t get everyone to attend anyway
This is an obvious point, but one that seems to be lost on many managers who require attendance at meetings.  For any given meeting, there is going to be a group of people who will not or cannot attend. 

The will not attend group are the following people:

a)      They’re so cynical, jaded, or unimpressed by prior meetings that even the mandatory tag will not get them there

b)      They are working in a different time zone, and the meeting is called during times outside of work hours

c)       They have deadlines or meetings with people outside your organization (such as a sales call) that are pressing and they make a judicious decision to risk not attending the meeting

d)      They feel that they already know the information

e)      Wildcard

The cannot attend group are the following people:

a)      They are sick (or their children are sick)

b)      They are traveling for work

c)       They are on vacation

d)      They are performing an important operational duty (security, inbound customer service, production line) that cannot be suspended

e)      They are unaware of the meeting

So here are 10 reasons that people are very unlikely to attend, even if you make the meeting mandatory.  Let’s say that 10% are sick, 10% are on vacation, etc. . .  Keep adding this up, and you could easily get to 30% of your staff that absolutely will not be there, no matter how “required” you make it.  Some for good reasons, and some for no-so-good reasons, but there is an inevitable gap.

There are ways to mitigate this: Shut down operations, don’t allow vacation or travel, include conference calls, schedule it so that people on another continent can attend, you are still guaranteed to have less than 100% attendance.

So by definition, the meeting isn’t mandatory.  It is optional.  And employees know this.  They know that some people aren’t going to attend, so by labeling a meeting as mandatory, they know you are essentially lying to them.  A game that they’ll play is seeing who didn’t attend, even with the mandatory tag.  Then the only question they’ll have is whether you are in consciously lying or are in denial in thinking that you can actually get 100% of the people there.

Given that you can’t actually get everyone to the meeting, perhaps it would be better to have the manager calling the meeting be reconciled to less than 100% attendance.  By doing this, the manager is afforded ways:

a)      to design in ways to get the information to or change required of your staff with the timing you want without requiring attendance at a singular meeting

b)      to facilitate the meeting so that the attendees can participate and contribute more

c)       to focus on the using the time to achieve outcomes vs. getting attendance

Reason number 2: You don’t know what works and what doesn’t work

When you require attendance, you are not getting immediate feedback about the quality of the meeting.  You are likely to be lulled into thinking your meeting is amazing, since you get such a high percentage of people attending all of the time.  As such, you’ll likely mix up feedback about attendance with feedback about the quality of the meeting. Since you see so many people at the meeting, the natural response will be, “Great turnout” and this translates to a generic, “The meeting went well.”  So it doesn’t matter what you do during the meeting, it will always be interpreted as “good meeting/well-attended meeting.”

There are ways to mitigate this as well.  For example, you can do a survey that asks for responses about the various components of the meeting:  Time, Duration, Activities, Quality of Information, etc.  This does give you the feedback, but the problem is that it is delayed feedback.  It is a lagging indicator.  You’ll get feedback about whether one speaker was good, or bad, or whether an activity was worth it, but it is delayed and abstracted.  On top of this, the feedback you get may be overwhelmingly positive, as the bar for a mandatory meeting is so low, if it was only half-way tolerable, you’ll get what are called “smile sheets”—positive reviews even if the session was miserable overall.  You may think that a miserable meeting is a high-quality meeting.

While you can still do the surveys, you should also measure what isn’t abstracted and are real leading indicators of success of a meeting:  Interest, Buzz, and Outcomes Obtained.  By monitoring for these, you can actually adjust for prior to and during the meeting, and be able to focus on coming up with ideas to increase these indicators.   The mandatory tag clouds these leading indicators, since interest is sullied, buzz is implied as unnecessary, and outcomes obtained is defined as attendance.

Reason number 3: You’ll never improve

By making your meetings mandatory, you essentially are making an effort to take shortcuts to greatness.  The attendance you obtain was not earned.  Your skills at designing, presenting at or facilitating a meeting are not being honed. You never learn what it is to actually make a meeting compelling.  In fact, you will necessarily forget and avoid all of the things that make a good meeting, since this mandatory short cut eliminates the need to create the conditions for a great meeting.

If you want to improve as a manager, and one who leads meetings, you have to challenge yourself to make your meetings compelling, to make them useful, and to create outcomes that are of value to you and your employees.  It isn’t always an easy task, but one that is important to get better at over time, and requires experimentation, failures, learning, and constantly evolving efforts.

Or you can just call mandatory meetings and hope that you get lots of attendance, and call it a success if you make it through the agenda.   But be aware of the impact this short-cut has on your staff.

What are the downsides you’ve seen as an employee or manager in calling a mandatory meeting?

In my next post, I’ll describe some methods for how to get out of the mandatory meeting cycle.

Related posts:

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

How Public Feedback Can Make the Situation Worse

Four more reasons giving public feedback backfires

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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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