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Good Meetings: Purpose

You know this: When work meetings aren’t productive, you run the risk of wasting time and contributing to employee disengagement and unhappiness. The truth is, meetings can be productive; they can even contribute to enhancing employee engagement.

This is the third post in a series of four about how to run better meetings at work. The topics we’re covering are:

Most modern workers have to be in meetings at least some of the time; this series is in part inspired by this podcast that posits ways to turn meetings from sources of dread and drain into sources of productivity and energy.

When I started to study happiness back in 2015, I was struck by the definition used by researchers: Happiness is not just the subjective feeling of joy and/or well-being, it’s that mixed with a sense of purpose, meaning, or that you’re participating in something larger than yourself. At work, this translates into the feeling that your role is connected to some purpose that is neither profit nor paycheck.

How does that translate into an everyday, run-of-the-mill workplace meeting?

It’s really quite simple:

Why are you having this meeting?

Why are you participating in this meeting?

What is the point?

If you are currently on the hook to plan and/or run a meeting, take a moment. Really, just pause your planning, breath, and ask yourself these questions:

  • Why are you doing this?

  • Is it truly necessary to gather a group of people together for this reason?

  • How am I going to communicate the purpose of the meeting to everyone who is invited and everyone who shows up?

If you’ve been invited to participate in a meeting, ask the meeting organizer similar questions, diplomatically. You might say something like,

I saw this meeting on my calendar, and I want to be prepared for it. Can you tell me more about why we’re meeting? What’s urgent about the topic? Is there a specific role you’d like me to play during the meeting, or reason that I was invited?

If you’re extra busy, you might also ask, “Is there any other way I can contribute my ideas if I’m unable to make the meeting time?”

Whenever you organize a meeting, make sure you can articulate precisely why you’re holding the meeting, preferably in one sentence. You should also be able to state, in one sentence, the reason you’ve invited each and every person invited to the meeting. You may not have a specific role to assign them (note-taker, devil’s advocate, final approver, etc.), but you need to be able to explain why you’d like them to participate in the meeting.

As a facilitator, here are some questions I ask - or think through - to better understand a gathering’s purpose:

  • What’s the purpose of this meeting? What is the goal? Are they the same or different?

    • Can the purpose or goal be achieved another way? If so, what does a meeting provide that’s important and is unlikely to be achieved otherwise?

    • If the purpose and the goal are two different things, what does that mean for the way this meeting will be run? If people are being asked to contribute opinions and ideas related to the purpose, and the meeting organizer has a preferred outcome goal, how can that be communicated in a way that does not stifle people? Should it? What happens if participants agree to a different goal?

  • Is there a document of any kind that should be produced?

  • Why is this meeting happening now?

  • What inspired the idea or plan to do this?

  • What might other people (especially participants) think about the goal for this meeting?

  • How will the goal of the meeting be shared with participants?


Perhaps the most important takeaway you can gain from this post is simply this: If you can’t articulate a purpose for a meeting - or you state a purpose that makes you groan or wonder if it’s really necessary - do not hold the meeting. Find a different way to communicate. I’m happy to brainstorm with you!


Have questions or comments about this post or our series on good meetings? Let me know!


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