Boring Meetings Suck: Handling the Meeting Overinvitation Syndrome

By Jon Petz

How many times this week have you sat in a meeting and asked yourself:

  • Why I am here?”
  • “Why are members of the sales team here? This issue doesn’t concern them, and they’re only making it worse.”
  • How does this information affect me?”
  • Why can’t they just let me know what decision they make? I’m fine either way.”
  • “What else could I be doing right now?”
  • And here’s the biggie: “How many times have I felt this way today?”

Erring on the side of inviting everyone

The overinvitation syndrome prevails in meeting scenarios in which the organizer has an ego problem, doesn’t understand the resources needed for decision making, or doesn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings for not being included.

The result? Inviting too many people to the meeting — people who may not be stakeholders in the decision, who may not need to be privy to the information, or who may not even be affected by the outcome.

Who to invite becomes a bigger decision than many might think. To alleviate the stress of deciding, meeting planners err on the side of inviting everyone. Unfortunately, that is counterproductive to the meeting’s goals, especially if it’s a problem-solving meeting.

Why? Because as you increase the number of attendees, you exponentially increase your inability to reach any decision. Hence, you have a greater chance of accomplishing nothing and a bigger chance that your meeting will suck.

What about all-hands meetings, you ask? Sure, they include everyone, which is just fine as long as the organizer has studied Agenda Item 7, “Big Meetings Suck Even Bigger.

Having this kind of meeting can be extremely important when the overall group is small. But as the audience size grows, so does your risk of wasting time.

In your all-hands meeting, make sure you:

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  • Share information that’s relevant to all people. If you take a moment to speak specifically to one group, do so tactfully and broadly. A specific solution or highly detailed piece of content should be handled with group members one-on-one.
  • Control the question-and-answer segment. Don’t subdue the audience or dodge a tough question, but answer it as it relates to everyone by keeping focused on the group as a whole. Again, highly detailed answers relevant to a small group of attendees should absolutely be addressed—immediately after this meeting — in a direct and personal fashion.
  • If all groups have the opportunity to report, keep it short, focused, and positive on how it affects the company as a whole. This shows support, builds commitment, and motivates people to do a good job.

For your everyday general meetings, determine who has a vested interest in reaching common objectives as opposed to who is an interested party. The following SRDs (Suckification Reduction Devices) should help.

Facilitator SRDs

  • The greater the number of people in your meeting equals the greater level of difficulty in making a decision.
  • Inexperienced meeting hosts tend to overinvite. If you’re one of those hosts, trim your list by asking these questions:
    • Who has the authority to make decisions on this topic?
    • Who is directly affected by the results of this decision?
    • Who will actively generate new ideas or solutions that are topical?
    • Who will contribute to the meeting in a productive manner?
    • Who has information needed for the discussion? (Attendees will become frustrated when issues can’t be resolved because a key person isn’t there.)
  • Then consider how you’ll handle the information:
    • Who needs to hear about the decision?
    • Who is affected by the results of this decision?
    • Who has a team member or team leader already participating in the meeting?
  • If you want everyone holding hands in unison, invite all those who are sympathetic to the same cause. But if you want a lively discussion, then invite people on both sides of the issue at hand.
  • You can still gather the view of the full group. Provide an opportunity to participate before the meeting by having people share their ideas or strategies with their team leader or liaison who will attend.
  • Having secret meetings or withholding information that should be public will definitely be viewed as negative. Always share appropriate information or decisions with your team and/or company leaders.
  • Check your ego at the door. Your all-hands meeting must relate to all hands. If you’re showing off your power (or need thereof) by having a mandatory meeting that isn’t relevant to everyone, you’re fostering dissatisfaction for your most productive workers. But don’t worry; those who aren’t highly productive will welcome the interruption and applaud you with all their hands.

Attendee SRDs

Is it not the type of meeting you can publicly back out of? Do you have an egocentric meeting leader who will be offended if you don’t show up? Do you fear others will also be no-shows and thus hurt your career? Or simply, do you feel an obligation to attend knowing you’ll behave like a wallflower.

Consider these suggestions:

  • Get involved by making the meeting relate to your objectives or your team. The facilitator may even ask you to step down from your soapbox. In that case, you simply ask, “Then may I leave?”
  • Ask where the notes will be posted afterward. Then find other things to do to remain productive without further delaying the proceedings of the meeting.
  • Ask a direct question: “How do the 2014 projected corn-trucking needs relate to the swimming pool maintenance department?”

GET OUT!

An all-hands meeting is likely the type you need to get out of before it even starts. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you believe you’ve been automatically added to a meeting invitation because you’re part of a group? Then respond by saying that your supervisor or team leader will represent your team. Or, if necessary, change up and have a different representative attend each meeting. Keep as many team members productive as possible.
  • TiVo the meeting. Many all-hands meetings for large companies are recorded in some fashion. If you need the information that’s presented there, get the recording. That way, you can play it back without all the “commercials” (in the form of tangents, bad transitions, and useless babble).
  • Have your tried these handy excuses lately?Sorry, I have food poisoning.” “I have a court date with my ex-spouse.” “I’m having lunch with my mother-in-law.”

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., www.wiley.com , from Boring Meetings Suck: Get More Out of Your Meetings, or Get Out of More Meetings by Jon Petz (c) 2011 Jon Petz.

Jon Petz is a motivational keynote speaker and author of Boring Meetings Suck. He has spoken to more than a half million people during presentations to companies including Walmart, Honda, Deloitte, and AT&T. In 2008, American City Business Journals named him a Top Business professional Under 40. Contact him at jon@jpetz.com.

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