Are Meetings Broken?

August 30, 2011

AL PITTAMPALLI argues that western business culture is paralyzed by the meeting process, rather than being spurred into action. He is on a mission to revolutionise meetings. Would these key points assist your meetings to be more productive?

Purpose. The decision is king, not the attendees. Therefore there are two roles for meetings:

  1. Seeking (constructive) conflict and guiding its resolution, and
  2. Coordination of the implementation plan made following the decision.

Steps for making meetings worth having.

1. Support a decision already made: ie debate the alternatives prior to the meeting. If contentious, may require some final debate in the meeting – but then vote.

2. Refuse to be informational: ie expect attendees to come informed and ready to debate a position. Expect (require) dissent to improve the decision-making process

3. Reject the unprepared (attendees and meeting itself) – Requires:

  • Informational memos/ summaries prior, with problem(s), alternatives, recommended decision
  • A meaningful agenda (what the issues are, who needs to attend/ decide);
  • Supporting memos are complete cogent argument(s), rather than a dribble of information without clear outcome
  • Signal the importance of ‘final’ documents once debate is at a point when a decision (and hence meeting) can be made

4. Effective meetings move fast, and end on schedule – while allowing informed opinions to be heard

5. Limit the number of attendees to those directly affected by the decision(s).

  • Incorporate the opinions of those not directly affected by the decision, in the debate prior to the meeting
  • Others may attend as observers, but not to disrupt the meeting

6. Produce concrete action plan(s) for implementation, especially:

  • Coordination/ timetabling
  • What steps need to be done
  • Who is to do each step, and
  • When is each step to be completed, including the final step.

7. Develop a culture of brainstorming:

  • Non-judgmental idea generation (easier outside your own area of expertise)
  • Need clear problem (may need to brainstorm problem definition, eg root cause analysis)
  • Demonstrate passion, praise; set an idea number target and time limit; keep it fun and physically active
  • An external facilitator, and non-involved scribe are important factors
  • No criticism or evaluation of ideas is to occur until after the targets are met
  • Have ‘office hours’ where people can informally chat at set time windows – eg a weekly slot for each division

Further information:

Sample Agenda




Convenor/ Responsible Person:

Decision/ Outcome Expected:



Objective/ Rationale:

Implications of this decision (For and Against):



I agree to show up on time.
I agree to NOT grandstand, ramble, create diversions, stall, blame, or attack.
I agree to change my mind or point of view if presented with a compelling argument.
I agree to work in the self interest of the group, not just myself, my department, or my team
I agree to boldly commit to actions, and then follow through on their completion
I agree to NOT attend if I don’t feel my presence will add value. I won’t worry about upsetting others.
I agree to prepare in a way that is worthy of the time we’ll be spending at this meeting.

Signature: _________________  Name: ___________________  Date: __________

Posted in Blog by Douglas Fahlbusch