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Do you feverishly dislike meetings?

Over more than 25 years of covering state and local government, we can’t recall ever talking to a public sector manager who loved going to meetings.

“Don’t wait for the Red Sea to part. Just let those people go.”

Clearly, somebody out there must like them, because there are so many. We just haven’t run into the meeting-mongers in the government management world. It always seems to us like many gatherings are called without any thought about the value of the time that will be expended. Say, a manager brings seven supervisors into a conference room for a two-hour session. That’s eight people, including the manager, times two hours or a total of sixteen hours — or two full days of work for one person. That doesn’t even count the amount of time people should be taking to prepare for the gathering, and the  inevitable chit-chat dissecting the interpersonal relationships betrayed at the meeting. (“Did you see the way Connie rolled her eyes, when Ralph interrupted?”)

We believe that this equation should run through the mind of anyone who is mandating exclusive use of a number of other employees.

Following, based on a number of conversations we’ve had over the years, are seven ideas for making meetings more productive, and possibly cutting down on resentment at their very existence.

  1. Whoever called for the meeting should be there exactly when the meeting is supposed to start. There are few things more galling than to have a bunch of busy people sitting in a room, awaiting the appearance of someone who gives the appearance of being too busy to get to his or her own meeting on time.

  2. Somebody should be taking really good notes, and — without taking too much time — distributing them to the men and women who were in attendance.

  3. If you set a meeting for an hour, and it doesn’t need an hour, don’t wait for the Red Sea to part. Just let those people go.

  4. Meetings should end with some time to discuss “next steps,” so that attendees will feel like this session led someplace except to the graveyard of hours they’ll never see again.

  5. Make sure the people in the room all get an agenda in advance. And by in advance, we don’t mean an e-mail that pops up 10 minutes before the gathering begins.

  6. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that there’s infinite time for the meeting during the first third, moving along at a decent pace in the second third, and then rushing in the last third — which often is when the group is trying to come to some conclusions.

  7. There are lots more ideas, but here’s one that’s near to our hearts: If people are joining into the meeting by telephone, make sure they have the chance to actually participate.


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