Meeting effectiveness: Do we need a meeting?
By C. Fredrick Crum

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This is the fifth in a series addressing meeting effectiveness.

Meetings are the most misused tool in a leader's communications toolkit. In most instances, meetings are used by executive leadership as a first response to most situations unnecessarily. X has just happened so we need to call a meeting, or we need to meet to talk about Y. If leaders took the time to peruse their communications toolkits they would discover they have a number of tools that would be much more effective than having a meeting.


Is the term "meeting" used too frequently?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Golfers know they would not play an entire round of golf with just their driver nor would they play an entire round of golf with just a putter. In their golf bag they have a number of different "sticks" to use in different situations. Golfers know their golf score is determined by their skill level and their choice of sticks, along with their ability to utilize those sticks in many different types of terrain. Just like a golfer, a leader needs to examine all the "sticks" (communications tools) in his bag to select the most appropriate stick to use.

Oxford defines a meeting as an assembly of people for a particular purpose, especially for formal discussion. My definition is more specific.

A meeting is called to assemble a number of people for a defined singular purpose. The meeting must have a written agenda with participants having assigned roles before, during and after the meeting. The assigned roles during to meeting, at minimum, would include: a leader, time keeper, facilitator and a recorder. Specific meeting ground rules must be established to assure the meeting process concludes with actionable and measurable results.

I have observed that most meetings I have been asked to attend do not qualify as meetings. Most of those gatherings were group discussions. They were not meetings according to the above definition.

So why is the term meeting misused so often? Because meetings are important. Going to a meeting in the work world even sounds important. The statement, I'm having a meeting with John, gives the impression of having more importance than I'm going to a sales presentation given by John.

Leaders need to consciously work to change their vocabulary and rethink their use of the term meeting to improve their effectiveness and improve their corporate culture. Organizations need to learn that conversations are important. Discussions are important. Brainstorming sessions are important. Presentations are important. These are just a few of the many other "sticks" leaders have in their communications bag.

As an example, a leader inviting team members to a brainstorming session about improving the organization's Web presence would generate a great deal more productive contributions than merely inviting team members to a meeting about their Web presence. The mindset, attitude and preparation of those invited to a brainstorming session would be much different than those called to a meeting.

Leaders, just like golfers, need to know the appropriate time to use a sand wedge, 5-iron or putter. The driver (meeting) should be reserved for situations in which you really need the power to soar forward. Using a driver on the green may get you thrown off the course.

C. Fredrick Crum is the president and founder of Effective Leadership Now.Org. He has spent more than 30 years working with leaders and leadership teams to improve their performance.