Four Questions to Protect Yourself from Bad Meetings

October 24, 2016

Thinking Girl Looking Up With Red Question Sign Near HerI’ve been writing about meetings and how to make them better for months.

And, as you know, I even wrote a book about making meetings matter (available on Amazon.com at this linkcontact me directly for volume discounts).

Most of my rants have been directed at senior executives and team leaders, because I consider them the most accountable for lousy meetings. After all, it is organizational leaders who set the tone and establish expectations for how things are supposed to work.

It is organizational leaders who set performance standards, measure actual outcomes, and sponsor leadership development programs aimed at equipping team leaders with both the skillsets and the mindsets for leading effective meetings. I believe those are the people who most need to hear my message and join my crusade.

However, I’ve recently realized that focusing on organizational leaders isn’t enough.

This year in the United States we’re witnessing a powerful strain of populism – of every-day, “ordinary” people saying “enough” and “throw the bums out.” And the Brexit vote in the U.K. is another example of voters expressing displeasure with their elected leaders.

I’m not taking sides here on the upcoming U.S. election, but I do believe we are being reminded every day that the People do have Power – and when they exercise it things can change.

So today I am issuing a call to anyone and everyone who ever gets invited to a meeting to change the way you respond, and to hold the leaders who call all those meetings to higher standards.

Not too long ago I wrote a short piece (“Making Meetings Matter: Leading from Anywhere”) listing several specific things you can do as a meeting participant to help the formal leader make the meeting run smoothly and accomplish its goals.

I now realize that focusing on the actual meeting is only one small part of the puzzle, and when the meeting starts it’s often too late to make a meaningful difference. I just watched a short but fabulous TEDx talk delivered by David Grady in Boston in October 2013 (“How to Save the World, or at Least Yourself, from Bad Meetings”). It’s less than seven minutes long; I encourage you to watch it.

Here is the YouTube version:

Grady identifies what he calls “MAS – Mindless Acceptance Syndrome” – the “involuntary reflex in which a person accepts a meeting invitation without even thinking why.”

I completely agree: that’s where the bad meetings epidemic begins.

The next time you get a meeting invitation, ask these four important questions before you accept it or commit to attend:

  • What is the Purpose of the meeting? What outcomes does the leader want or expect?
  • What is the Agenda? How will we spend our time during the meeting?
  • Who else has been invited? Are they the right people for accomplishing the meeting’s purpose?
  • How will my attendance at this meeting help me accomplish my own goals and produce positive results for me and/or my organization?

If you can’t answer those basic questions, Decline the meeting; or, better, contact the person who sent you the invitation and ask him/her these four questions. If there are reasonable answers, then you can consider Accepting the invitation. If not, then you can either work with the meeting leader to develop reasonable answers or Decline to attend.

I realized recently that one of the main reasons we are experiencing such an epidemic of lousy meetings is that in most organizations there is no one person responsible for the quality of meetings across the organization. Yes, individual leaders must be accountable for their own meetings; and yes, anyone who attends a meeting shares responsibility for the quality of that meeting. But most of us don’t realize how much we can do individually to make our meetings better. More importantly the distributed responsibility makes it difficult to launch any kind of organization-wide initiatives to improve how meetings are designed and led.

As David Grady points out so eloquently, you wouldn’t tolerate a fellow employee walking into your workspace and stealing your chair. But almost every day you allow others to steal a far more valuable resource: your time. Stop it right now – no more Mindless Acceptance of meeting invitations!


For a longer exploration of how to make all those lousy meetings both productive and popular, order a copy of my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age (link is to the book’s page on Amazon.com. However, you should contact me directly for volume discounts). Or, as a first step, view a short video and download a free excerpt at this link.


And call me today (+1 510.558.1434) for a free exploratory conversation about how you can become a hero by improving your organization’s meeting ROI. Isn’t it time to upgrade the quality and the efficiency of all your meetings?

Download "Four Questions to Protect Yourself from Bad Meetings" as a PDF

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