Six dysfunctions of meetings: I bet you recognise number four

Derek Robertson.jpg

Derek Robertson , CEO

(Chartered FCIPD, MCMI, MInstLM, NLP Practitioner and Coach) 

Author of The Great Cape Escapade (A Fable about effective meetings)

5 min read



A whopping 71% of leaders say their meetings are unproductive and inefficient.  Poor meetings are a disease.  Sadly, each new generation spreads the virus by following the (poor) practice they observed in others.

Yet meetings are essential to businesses.  It’s where people ought to do what they do best:

  1. Harness their collective creativity to solve problems
  2. Bond as a group
  3. Create and commit to actions

What is an effective meeting?

It’s one that achieves its purpose, finishes on time or earlier and has the participants feeling good about the experience.

And it improves the chair person’s personal brand.  If you run meetings with external folks, it adds shine to your organisation’s brand too.

Unfortunately, I can quote you lots of facts from meetings' research.  And they’re all bad for business.  So, let’s look at six symptoms of poor meetings.  I've called them dysfunctions.

The six meeting dysfunctions

#1 Leaving success to chance

Anyone think Usain Bolt got up on 14 August 2016 and just fancied popping down to Brazil to win a 100m gold?  Of course not.  He planned for it, developed the skills necessary, got his brain in gear and so on.

So, the first meeting dysfunction is just turning up and expecting a great meeting.  Contributing to this first dysfunction are:

  1. People unclear about the meeting’s purpose
  2. Jargon no-one knows or clarifies
  3. Lack of role understanding
  4. A poor agenda – usually vague and doesn’t help participants prepare
  5. A confused and so uncertain minute taker
  6. Folks come with nothing specific to do
  7. Key people not lobbied beforehand.


#2 A poor start

This simply reinforces the groundhog day bad meeting feelings.  In NLP we’d call it a bad anchor.

You’ll recognise this if your meetings have a flexible start time as people drift in, there are tech hitches and the meeting begins with something like:

“Hi folks. I know we’ve all got busy jobs to do so let’s get this done and out of the way as quickly as we can: right?  Ok then item one . . .”

It just fills you with motivation, doesn’t it?


#3 Haphazard through the agenda

When the chair person doesn’t position each item constructively, remind everyone of the time allocation and use simple facilitation tools and techniques to move the discussion along you get:

  • Bored and frustrated participants
  • Alphas jockeying for position in the power vacuum
  • Missed opportunities, wasted time, money and energy


#4 Fizzles out at the end

Movie, presentation or meeting, people remember the starts and ends of things.  Without a strong meeting end it suffers from:

  1. Unclear actions that mean more wasted time
  2. People feeling down when they ought to be feeling fulfilled
  3. Drifting into the next meeting unprepared.

And after the meeting:

  1. People’s unhelpful behaviours go unchallenged
  2. Minutes or action points arrive sometime . . . if at all.


#5 Bad practice get worse

The chair sets the meeting culture.  When they don’t show how they are reflecting on their performance and implementing actions to improve the meeting, it’s logical that the participants don’t either.  The result is meetings get steadily worse.

Not using some agenda time every so often to review process and performance is a dysfunction bordering on the criminal.


#6 Allowing ‘staleness’

Too much of anything is bad – even great meetings.  So perfectly healthy meetings today still need attention tomorrow.  Or they go stale.

The last dysfunction is not to keep things fresh for people.  Humans like rituals and they need variety.  Expanding the use of simple facilitation tools and techniques  and  varying the meeting venue are two straightforward ideas that help.


Your takeaway

Action these three things to have consistently effective and fulfilling meetings:

  1. Remember what makes an effective meeting: that’s your success measure
  2. Do the opposite of all of these dysfunctions
  3. Talk with your meeting participants to engage them in improving what you achieve together.

Final thought

Cure the effective meeting disease in your organisation and you will be a boardroom hero. And you need only do it one meeting at a time.

Your next action

Check out the following sources and downloads:

  1. Download our Ultimate Guide to Meetings
  2. Check out our Meetings Book here
  3. A meetings calculator to work out the potential for ROI at your organisation.