Ineffective Meetings: The Seven Deadly Sins

By: Matt Grandbois, PhD – Councilor for PROF

On our pathway to “Professional Paradise”, we will frequently have to call together colleagues and acquaintances to gather and achieve a goal. Meetings have been a staple of the professional experience since its inception and is now an unavoidable requirement for the modern chemist. Remembering to avoid some of the most egregious of “sins” while running and planning meetings will help you build your brand a professional chemist.

As we descend into the abyss, I have identified “7 Deadly Sins of Ineffective Meetings” that have an uncanny affinity with a similar set of iniquities that have captured the imagination of scholars since before Dante gave verse to them in his Divine Comedy. These sins naturally group into subcategories that reflect a lack of balance or control by the meeting organizer and facilitator. Effective meeting organizers exhibit virtue in their ability to schedule, run, and utilize meetings to achieve collective greatness.

Too Much of a Good Thing

  1. Scheduling too many meetings – Deciding the right frequency for meetings is challenging. Setting a meeting cadence requires appropriate thought up front to anticipate the needs of the project and provide teams the agility they need to take meaningful action. There is a really good read on meeting design by Elise Keith that I encourage you to study if you find yourself in the gluttonous position of scheduling too many meetings.
  2. Scheduling too long meetings – Meetings need to be the appropriate amount of time for attendees to effectively accomplish their purpose, but the emergence of the #couldhavebeenanemail hashtag  highlights the sensitivity people have when it comes to scheduling marathon meetings without a purpoe. Lusting for more time with your fellow meeting attendees will only result in a growing sense of disdain for your meetings, or worse, avoidance if this problem persists.
  3. Having too many people – Everyone in a meeting should have a purpose. They should speak to their experience and authority. If your meeting attendee list starts to grow out of control, you need to fight against your greed and desire to accumulate more attendees. Keeping meetings attendance to only people that need to be there and having those people having a vested interest in the success of the group will help you keep your meetings productive and efficient.

Sitting in the Driver’s Seat

  • Lack of Agenda – A meeting should have a purpose and it is the responsibility of the meeting organizer/facilitator to have a planned agenda to meet this goal. It is very easy to fall into a sloth-like habit of just throwing a meeting appointment on someone’s calendar without letting them know what will be discussed, but this lack of planning will spill-over into the meeting and create a sense of confusion for the attendees. Establishing an agenda up front will help you drive the meeting towards the desired purpose with a strong sense of urgency.   
  • Overwhelming attendees – Some meetings are scheduled to tackle very complex problems with numerous implications that could come from the decisions reached during the meeting. In this case, there needs to be appropriate preparation made to encourage discussions without sacrificing this exchange of ideas in the pursuit of “staying on time”. Getting into the habit of cutting off valuable discussion will surely invoke the wrath of your colleagues, so make sure you properly anticipate the amount of time needed to discuss the situation, digest the information, and decide on an appropriate action plan during the meeting.

Achieving Inclusivity

  • Failure to contribute – As the meeting organizer and facilitator, you need to be able to keep the conversation moving and on track to achieve the meeting objective. This means you will often need to speak up to redirect the conversation if you get off track. It is not an envious position to be in when you are in a meeting full of big personalities with conflicting motivations, but you need to exhibit leadership during the meeting as needed so that the time your group spends together is viewed as productive by all attendees or their support for future meetings may diminish.
  • Overrunning Attendees – A meeting is not a place for you to pontificate your opinions to attendees. If you need to have a forum to delegate tasks to individuals, a meeting is a challenging place to do that as it results in many people wondering if the meeting truly should have been an email. Having pride in your abilities, thought process, and decision making is tolerable to a point, but good leaders surround themselves with people that bring valuable perspectives and capabilities that will allow you to achieve a greater good by working together.

Running effective meetings is the sign of a consummate professional. By trying to avoid some of the pitfalls highlighted above, you can elevate the quality of your meetings and increase your effectiveness as a leader inside, and outside, the lab.  

Matt Grandbois is a Strategic Partnership Manager for DuPont Electronics & Industrial where he is involved in new business development activities for the world’s leading supplier of chemistries and technologies for the manufacturing of electronic devices. Matt is an active contributor to the Division of Professional Relations where he is the current Councilor and has authored past blog posts. In addition to his role in PROF, Matt is also involved in the ACS Division of Business Development & Management, Committee on Professional Training, and the Central Massachusetts Local Section.

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