Are Your Meetings “Garbage”?


If I asked you to think through your career and remember notable meetings you attended, ones where ideas were flowing, decisions were made and you left feeling like you and your team really accomplished something…how many come to mind?

Now, what if I asked you to recall meetings where no decisions or very little progress was made, and you walked out feeling like you had better things to do with that hour of your time…how many come to mind? I’m willing to bet you can remember attending many more of the second type than the first.

Meetings are a huge part of daily work life, and most of us wish they took up less time in our schedules. Maybe if all of them were productive and stimulating, we’d feel differently. It’s hard to do that, though, when we’re inundated with pre-meetings to plan meetings, meetings where little is accomplished, and post-meetings to follow-up where there is little to follow-up.

So how do we make the most of our meetings? Or rather, how do we determine which meetings are likely to end in success vs. those that will leave us wishing we could turn back time and not go? The other day I saw a blog on Huffington Post proclaiming 99% of work meetings are garbage, which included an eye-catching and humorous decision tree meant to help discern whether you should attend a meeting or if it’s a waste of your time.

While I agree that meetings are often less productive than I would like, I do have issues with some of the decision points in the chart. I think that 99% is a little overzealous. In my opinion, re-evaluating these four decision points could lead to a drastic decrease in the percentage of work meetings the chart would categorize as “garbage”.

1. Can you be there in person?

The chart advises that if you have to call-in for the meeting and there is no video-conference option, you should not attend. In these days where telework and budgetary constraints are prevalent, that seems an unreasonable approach: video-conferencing hasn’t been fully integrated in government agencies; a significant portion of the workforce works remotely; and budget cuts mean less travel (if any) for in-person meetings. If people followed the “not able to attend in person so I shouldn’t go rule” hardly any meetings (necessary or not) would happen ever.

2. Is brainstorming the only thing on the agenda?

So what if it is? Brainstorming meetings can be successful. The best part about these types of meetings (when they are successful) is an open and enthusiastic exchange of creative ideas. As long as you attend with intent (i.e., you call in or go to the designated conference room prepared to participate), these meetings can be as productive as participants allow them to be.

3. Is the meeting scheduled during lunchtime?

Lunchtime meetings happen…period. Calendars are often dictated by managers’ and executives’ open schedules. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a big deal either.

4. Do you feel prepared to contribute in a meaningful way to this discussion?

At first glance, I agreed with the chart’s assessment of the answer to this question. It makes sense; if you’re not prepared to contribute, you shouldn’t attend a meeting. However, when I considered it a bit more I realized a lot of meetings are learning experiences. I can’t tell you how many tidbits of information I’ve picked up by listening in on meetings where I had nothing to actively contribute to the discussion.

If you are really feeling the need to clear up your calendar, evaluate your meetings on a case by case basis. You might not be able to avoid ones that are less productive than you would like, but if you take the time to consider them beforehand and can identify ways to improve them or make them more productive, do it.

Have a meeting on your calendar without an agenda? Ask the organizer for one or make one yourself.

Think you can cancel a meeting in favor of a quick discussion at a co-worker’s desk? Suggest that as an alternative.

Meetings are never going to go away, but with a little thought and effort, we can decrease the number of bad meetings happening to good employees.

And the key decision point I think is missing from the chart?

Did your manager tell you to attend the meeting?


Mackenzie Wiley is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Patrick Fiorenza

Good post. There’s nothing worse than sitting in an unproductive meeting, knowing you are losing time in your day to accomplish work. Our policy is to have as little meetings as possible, and although there are standard meetings on calendars, they are often cancelled if no pressing items need to be discussed. But, I think much of this depends on work styles and the organizations norms. Some people just need to talk things out and be heard, others want to work and regroup only as needed. Think it’s important for management to know what their employees want, and design based off their needs and what will make them the most productive.