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Set an agenda, and 9 other ways to avoid being an asshole in a meeting

Time. No one has enough of it, and we’re all trying to manage it. Most days, “lunch” is just another word for “dry cleaning run” and your commute doubles as “me” time. Which is why meetings–standing, spontaneous, staff–are such a bummer. Because they’re too often a colossal waste of time.

Ask around about meetings and, I promise, you’ll hear a torrent of pet peeves. We humans will do almost anything to get out of a meeting—they’re that awful—and everyone will know if we happen to have a day without one on the calendar. They’re that rare. As a concept, meetings have failed to keep pace with trends in innovative workplace solutions. New technology tools (collaboration apps, project management tools, instant messaging, and teleconferencing) haven’t broken the code. Regardless of organizational structure (traditional, flat, holacratic) one thing is clear: no one can figure how to make meetings go away. They’re corporate kryptonite.

If meetings, like death and taxes, are inevitable, it would make sense for meeting well to be a top priority for all organizations. And yet? Not so much.

Meetings are corporate kryptonite. What's the secret for meeting well?

A successful meeting is a two-way street. It takes skill and leadership on the part of the organizer and attention and initiative from participants. In other words, there are two ways to be an asshole when it comes to meetings: You can host a terrible meeting, or you can be a crap attendee.

If your company or organization regularly gathers time-strapped souls in stuffy rooms, be part of the solution and avoid these common mistakes.

1. Don’t call a meeting without an agenda. Does this even need to be said? Apparently, yes. The results are unanimous: the single most aggravating thing about meetings is how many happen sans agenda. Hosting a meeting without an agenda is tantamount to saying, “I don’t really have a clear idea of why I’ve asked you here, but I guess we’ll just figure it out as we go along.” Not. Cool.

2. No standing meetings. Standing meetings run the same risk of being irrelevant. Can you predict the future? Do you know for certain that your team will have something important to discuss as a group every single Tuesday at 9 am? I didn’t think so.

3. Don’t include tech that doesn’t work or wasn’t set up in advance. Doing so quickly telegraphs to everyone in the room a) I’m incompetent and b) your time is less important than mine, so you need to just sit there while I try to find the phone extension for IT.

4. Don’t be late. Those co-workers holding the start of the meeting for you? They hate you right now. They managed to get themselves into a chair in the conference room on time and you can, too.

5. Don’t slouch, slump or sleep. Enough said.

6. Don’t type or text during the meeting. Unless you’re assigned the job of note taker, leave the laptop at your desk. And, put away your phone. Sitting through a meeting distracted by other work impacts everyone in the room and makes a meeting even less productive. Plus, it’s crazy rude.

7. Lunch is lunch; a meeting is a meeting. Too many meetings are essentially a room full of hangry people jockeying for the last peanut butter cookie or trying to eat Caesar salad without spraying dressing on a colleague. No one is focusing on Q4 budgets when they’re picking capers out of the tuna salad. If you’re serving food at a meeting (free lunch anyone?) schedule time for food first, presentations second. As in, after the cookies have been demolished.

No one is focusing on Q4 budgets when they’re picking capers out of the tuna salad.

8. Do make sure everyone in the room knows what the next steps are, and who owns each action item. How many meetings have you exited recently with no clear idea why you were there or what you’re supposed to do next? The responsibility lies with the meeting’s host to let you know ahead of time what the meeting is about, why you were invited, and what she needs from you in terms of follow up. If none of this is obvious, speak up.

9. No loud accessories. I promise this is a thing. Before you layer on the gold bangles or snap on that oversized watch, consider your day. Chances are you have at least one meeting where the clanking of said jewelry against the conference table will grate. Don’t let your accessories be the distraction in the room.

10. Don’t host a meeting when an email would suffice. I know, it’s heady to host a meeting. Everyone pausing in their work day to come to your meeting. Awesome. You really want them to love you? Cover your meeting topic in a concise email instead. You’ll be a hero.

Meetings can and should bring out the best in workplace relations. Perhaps, with a renewed commitment to meeting well, there’s hope for the future of meetings—but it’s on each of us to do our part. So, if you don’t want to be an asshole about it, set an agenda, cancel the gratuitous bagel delivery and learn how to run Prezi on your PC. I can’t promise everyone will love being there, but it’s a start.