7 Things You Don’t Realize About Meetings

Meetings are filled with people; people are filled with weird things. So how do you get them to do something?

7 Things You Don’t Realize About Meetings

OK, so you’re meeting with a handful of colleagues. And you’ve even done the requisite pruning to coax the collective into making the big decision–and yet by the time the meeting’s over, nothing got done.


Writing for HBR, Schaffer Consulting managing partner Ron Ashkenas details that there’s more happening here than meets the eye:

meetings are not simply logical business mechanisms, but are also social systems that are embedded in the cultural and emotional reality of an organization. This means that whoever runs a meeting also has to take into consideration a number of non-rational dynamics that aren’t covered in the standard meeting manuals.

This is something easy to grasp at a conceptual level–yes, meetings are filled with human mammals–but hard to make a personal conviction. To do so requires a lot of emotional intelligence, which probably didn’t get covered in school.

Thankfully, Ashkenas supplies us with a taxonomy of the unconscious factors affecting a meeting. Essentially, everybody bring their own bundle of consciousness into the conference room, and consciousness is a murky, fantastic, weird thing. He helps us to be conscious of the following:

  1. For some people, it’ll be a high priority; for others, it’s just on the calendar
  2. Some will be prepped, some will phone it in
  3. Some will care a lot, some couldn’t care less
  4. Being in a meeting can be a status symbol, so folks join without contributing
  5. Meetings can be “much-needed social gatherings” for distributed teams, so a lot of time is spent catching up
  6. Some people like to be lead, others will bristle at the thought
  7. Some managers will take charge, others will waiver

So what are we to do? If you understand that all these storylines are afoot, Ashkenas notes, then you’ll have a better time attending to them and directing the actions into actually getting things done. A well-run meeting, then, requires a fair bit of mindfulness.

Hat tip: HBR

[Image: Flickr user Antony Mayfield]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.