How to save your team from meeting misery

Julia Clavien
Aug 27, 2016 · 3 min read

It’s common to hear people say that meetings are a “waste of time“, but this is an overcorrection.

Meetings aren’t inherently bad.


Bad meetings are bad. Good meetings are good.

Bad meetings are miserable. You can turn the dial down on meeting misery if you give these three things to meeting invitees.

(Obvious, but) first ask “does it really require a meeting?”

There are many modes of communication available. Watercooler chats to email to IM to meetings and so on. A meeting isn’t always the right mode to use. Meetings tend to be the superior choice when everyone needs to hear the same information at once, or when you want to minimize the back and forth, or make a decision as a group.

1. Give them information…

Write a GAP agenda and send ahead of time…

The GAP stands for Goal, Agenda and Preparation.

The GAP agenda is brilliant for two reasons. Yes, it communicate clearly to the attendees, but has the added value of forcing the meeting host to get clear ahead of time as well. (I came across this idea via the clever Coach.me gang led by Tony Stubblebine. They’ve even written a book about it all now called Meeting Mastery (coauthors Alicia Liu Terrie Schweitzer)).

G is for Goal

What is the goal that if achieved, the meeting will have been successful? (Bonus points for S.M.A.R.T. goals of course.)

A is for Agenda

If you are going to ask people for their time, what are you asking them to spend it on? Tell them with an agenda. (Bonus points for noting owners and time blocks if appropriate). You can then use the agenda to timebox the meeting.

Personally I prefer to be not super rigid in keeping to the agenda (some tangents are valuable). However I’ve found a lot of value in being super rigid about always creating an agenda.

P is for Preparation

What preparation will make the meeting successful? When they join the meeting, should they have already reviewed something? Do they need to have collected information from someone inside or outside the company? Let people know what is expected to be done ahead of time.

2. Give them warning…

Get meetings on calendars ahead of time…

Respect people’s work and time. Give them warning when you want their time by putting things in their calendar.

Avoid last minute unplanned (and thus unexpected) meetings if possible with the “makers”. (Timebox it the meeting tightly. Even consider if it can be held standing up which tends to speed things up).

Try to hold meetings early or late in the date. This allows the “makers” to still access large enough chunks of time to get real work done.

This classic post by Paul Graham summed up the rationale for protecting the makers time well —

“There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. … Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in”.

Keep this in mind when inviting your “makers” to meetings.

3. Give them freedom…

Use the optional flag judiciously…

Carefully consider if each attendee is “required” or “optional”. Give people freedom to choose if they need to be there by flagging them as optional.

Further Reading

Meeting Mastery

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Julia Clavien

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Curious to a fault. Technology | Psychology | Philosophy. All opinion subject to change. ☺

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.