Skip to main content

10 Ways to avoid Failing Meetings

We’re all spending a growing percentage of our time in meetings. Meetings occur for any number of reasons, but regardless of the goals and the ways they are conducted (either in person, phone or via online tools), many of our meetings seem to have one thing in common: they are often perceived as a waste of time and a failure.

Meetings can fail to be useful for any number of reasons, including but not limited to lack of purpose, lack of direction, failure to stick to topic, absence of clear topics, hidden agendas, attendees not prepared, no record of decisions made and much more.

Meetings are one of the most important ways for people to communicate. They’re also the way that teams get some of the key work done. Although individual team members typically work on tasks outside of meetings, meetings give members the opportunity to come together to determine a team’s common goals, its plans for achieving these, and who will do what, when, how — and if relevant why.

However, everyone has suffered through far too many meetings that took up far too much time and accomplished far too little. Unfortunately, this seems to have happened so often that some of us may find ourselves becoming rather immune to the fact that meetings aren’t as good as they can be.

If we really want positive and efficient meetings, where all attendees can speak their mind, where new ideas are generated and developed and where the time is used as efficiently as possible, we need to go beyond the usual advice and maybe even try something slightly unusual.

Below are some pointers and guidelines that can help conduct more efficient meetings. You can also Download the infographic

Conduct less meetings

Don’t have a meeting unless it is necessary. Always ask yourself the question whether the same result cannot be obtained via a simple mail, a phone call or a one-to-one discussion. It’s however all about balance, mails have a tendency to become long mail chains so sometimes just a meeting with a limited list of attendees can provide a quick remedy for the topic at hand.

Decide who to invite

Only people who are actively participating in the meeting should be there. Anyone who is not going to be active or engaged shouldn’t be there because you’re wasting their time and they can alter the mindset of the other attendees. Don’t be afraid to keep the meeting invite list short as less people make for faster and engaged decisions. For each person, ask yourself whether the persons really own an agenda item, whether the person has the expertise or whether they have a clear and contributing insight.

Have a creative meeting format

Creative formats can range from the location where you hold the meeting to how you actually conduct the meeting. Why not start out with something positive, as then the rest of the meeting is more likely to be more fun? Why not have a brief meeting outside the office building or the coffee corner? Why not interrupt the flow of the meeting regularly with short breaks? This will keep people’s minds focused and it makes the whole gathering more relaxed. If a table for the meeting is just there to hold our coffee cup, why not loose it?

Prepare your meetings

Meeting are the same as any other work activity, all attendees should come prepared. The better prepared you are for them, the better the results you can expect and contribute to. Meetings need an objective so state it clearly and upfront. Be sure to distribute the agenda and any relevant data in advance.

Don’t forget the meeting agenda

You must provide a meeting agenda ahead of time that outlines what the attendees need to discuss and the best way of use of the time. An agenda shows attendees where they are going, but it’s then up to them to figure out how to get there.

Keep time

Everyone has suffered through meetings that went way beyond the scheduled end. If you announce the length of the meeting and the various topics on the agenda and then stick to it, fewer attendees will disconnect or keep looking at their watches, and more attendees will take an active role in your meetings.

Manage your topics and the overall focus

You must try at any cost to maintain the focus. All too often meetings get off track and stay off track either by people claiming time, changing subjects or doing other stuff like reading or answering mails. So stay on track and close those laptops as otherwise the result is yet another bad meeting that did not achieve the desired goal. It is the job of all attendees but in particular the meeting leader and organiser must actively work to keep meetings and attendees on track. Whenever you see the meeting drifting, speak up and push the other attendees to get it back in focus.

Take minutes, write down actions and assign owners

Someone must take minutes, even if the meeting only has two attendees. However, detailed notes that copy the discussion as it unfolds are almost always unnecessary. Recording the key decisions and action items is sufficient. You want to document decisions, so there is no misunderstanding later. You want to document action items, so that you can hold people accountable and track progress over time.

Determine the next meeting, if necessary

If the meeting disperses without setting the next date or the next steps, it makes it that much harder to follow-up and hold people really accountable. Take advantage of everyone being in one place to get this settled.

Distribute the Meeting Minutes

You should distribute minutes as soon after the meeting as possible, so that attendees can review the key items while they are fresh in their memory as well as review what is expected of them.


So next time you create a attendee list and plan a meeting, don’t just add management, people who always attend or the people who are on the project. Think about your meeting purpose, give everyone access to the agenda and data and keep the attendees and the meeting itself as relevant as possible.

You can also Download the infographic


Frederik De Breuck is better known as Stonyarc (GamerTag). Next to writing and maintaining his personal blog he is the owner of and . He's also Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) since 2010 and works as Presales Director for Fujitsu Belgium.

Leave a Reply