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Bad Meetings

Martin Haworth discusses how to spot bad meetings and things you can do to get them back on track. Learn about the components that make meetings less productive and how to take corrective action.

Terrible Meetings - Ten Ways to Spot Them

Meetings are valuable components of organisations. Yet they need process, discipline and leadership/facilitation to work best. Working at getting them right is one of the most value-creating activities any organisation can embark on. But it doesn't always work that way...

Sometimes, better than giving advice about how to run things well, it can be useful to have a hit list to notice to help you identify when things are less than productive. Meetings can be hugely productive, especially if you keep a sharp eye out for these Ten things:

No Agenda

When there is no agenda, there is no opportunity to prepare, no framework for the meeting and no purpose. When this happens a lot, there is a tendency for 5 below.

Wrong people there

Ever been to a meeting where there was no logical purpose for you to be there? Meeting time is valuable and it is important for efficiency and effectiveness that as few people attend as purposeful. People should appreciate that non-attendance at a particular meeting is OK and get used to it.


Those times when you sit in a meeting and watch your life slip away, are those that happened with poor meeting management. There is nothing worse than unkept promises (and meetings are just that - a contract to the participants time) and must be honoured. Everyone has a role here.


Many meeting participants do not know how to behave. These are things about them and their ego, lack of self-confidence and poor behaviours (out side the meeting too). Lack of courtesy, understanding and space for others to say their piece is inexcusable and not constructive for the outcome

The Leader Leads

Here the meeting is at the beck and call of the leader or chair who really is holding court for themselves. This sort of meeting is about them showing that they are democratic, but they are nothing of the sort. This is a rubber-stamping meeting and is of little or no value

The Leader Doesn't Lead

Here there is free-for-all, with no leadership from the chair. Poor behaviours, timekeeping and outcomes riddle this sort of meeting, with and end no-result and frayed-tempered, frustrated people


Too hot, too cold, no water, no breaks, too big, too small. Have you ever been in one of those meetings? And aren't they awful, so awful in fact that you can't do your best. This is a meeting where the organisers do not respect the participants

Nothing Happens

A lovely chat, a few disagreements and 'see you next month'. This is the nice-to-have meeting which does nothing and goes nowhere. As Peter Drucker said, 'Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better'

Side-tracked/New Stuff

With an agenda, people know what the meeting will be about - or will they. Even with the best agenda'd meeting weak processes tend to leave to new issues, side-tracking and wasted time. This is solvable with effort from the facilitator

No Review and Growth

Meetings come and go and are always awful. They are unproductive, boring, overrun and people are there who shouldn't be. If there is no review of just how good or bad the meeting has been, there will be no improvement. The leader/facilitator can add in meeting feedback as the first agenda item and stick to it - tough at first but gets easier.

Step by step, you can work, with a facilitator or not, to unravel just what needs to change. You will make a big difference, not only to meetings and how productive they are, but also to your capacity to build great relationships with the people who show up.

That's Leadership!

About the Author

© 2005 Martin Haworth is a business and management Coach. He works worldwide, mainly by phone, with small business owners, managers and corporate leaders. He has hundreds of hints, tips and ideas at his website, www.coaching-businesses-to-success.com.

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