Ask Patty: Aligning Process and Purpose

March 2017

Dear Patty,

Help! My office has a LOT of meetings. I groan loudly — internally! — when I hear it’s time for a meeting. Do you have any tips for improving the effectiveness of our meetings that I could share with staff?


Dying Inside During Meetings

Dear DIDM,

You are not alone. Who among us has not worked in an office with too many meetings, and/or terrible meetings? (Count yourself lucky, those of you who answered “Me!”)

The first question to ask yourself is this: Why a meeting? What is the purpose of the meeting, and would that purpose be better served through another medium?

Three common reasons to have meetings: share information, gather input, and make decisions. Each of those tasks could be done in a different way: over email, on a Slack channel, through a survey, etc. Is there a valid reason that the task will be done more efficiently/effectively by meeting face-to-face? Then go for it! Have a meeting.

But don’t forget to do the essential work needed to plan an effective meeting. Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Who needs to be at the meeting? Who would have meaningful, necessary input, and/or who has the power to make the decision under discussion? Invite those people to the meeting.
  • Create an agenda with timeframes guided by your goals for the meeting. Be sure to schedule critical decisions or questions before the halfway mark of the meeting, to allow enough time for discussion and problem-solving.
  • Inform meeting participants before the meeting of the purpose and agenda. Also, inform meeting participants of any roles they are expected to play at the meeting (e.g., give a report on their department, or take notes).
  • If the meeting topic includes a new change or decision that will directly affect people in the meeting, it may be to the meeting facilitator’s advantage to check-in with meeting participants ahead of time to see how they are feeling.
  • Gather and photocopy any materials you need for the meeting. Arrive early to the meeting space and set up.

Good luck!


This column offers tips and tools for building democratic workplaces, improving workplace culture & communication, and aligning how we do our work (process) with why we do our work (purpose). Patty is a fictional adjunct of The Blue Door Group, LLC — a real Philadelphia-based consulting firm focused on designing and teaching participatory process for learning, dialogue, and capacity-building. Do you have a question for Patty? Send it to and put “Ask Patty” in the subject line.