To meet or not to meet?

Hands up anyone who has been invited to a meeting, spent an hour or more listening to someone drone on (or worse, sat through Death by Powerpoint), only to wonder why you had been invited in the first place. Oh, look! All of you.

MS Outlook allows you to indicate whether each attendee is required or optional but no more than that.

So here is a suggestion: in the body of the e-mail, list all the required people and after each name, state why that person is required. This, to me, is basic business courtesy.

Hint: either you need them to contribute something or you need them to learn something. If it’s neither of those, they are not required!

Now I can hear some people saying, “I’m too busy to put all that information into a meeting invitation!”

invitationIn other words, you’d rather save yourself five minutes than save the project several man-hours? Now, that’s team thinking.

Let’s flip it on its head. You have a right to know why you are required at a meeting. If you get an invitation that doesn’t make it clear, reply and ask the organiser to make it clear. Expect the organiser to make it clear and if it is not made clear, decline the invitation. If that doesn’t provoke a response, then you weren’t really required, were you?

If declining does provoke a response, then ask again why you are required.

But after all that you find yourself in a meeting and you realise it’s a waste of your time. You aren’t learning anything and you aren’t contributing. When that happens to me, I wait for the next break and politely explain to the host that there is no point in my being there. Then I get back to work.


  • Your time costs your company and your customer money. People will inadvertently waste that time and money by inviting you to meetings which you do not need to attend. Make sure you are really needed at each meeting.

Kind regards,

Declan Chellar

7 comments to To meet or not to meet?

  • Excellent post… the world would be such a better place if everyone did this. I can honestly say I’ve been to meetings about having meetings and wondered why I was there! In fact, to take it one step further, I prefer not to attend meetings where there isn’t a formal agenda!

    That at least gives the impression that there is some degree of organisation going on.

    How many times in my life have I received “Subject: Meeting Request, Time: 13:00-17:00, Room: TBA, Details: None”

    I remember reading once (and I forget where), that in a meeting, the faciliator should always pull everything in to an action. So, if it’s a project update meeting for example, everything discussed should always be tied to an action that can be tracked and monitored. Since I read that, whenever in a meeting I always try and ask the question “what is the action here?” (and furthermore, who ‘owns’ and is responsible for that action?)

  • cathy smith

    I totally agree, great post. I continually get frustrated by receiving meeting invitations without any context, agenda or even just a quick note. To me good business practice is to always put in details of the purpose of the meeting or agenda, regardless of the audience, plus send out minutes afterwoods (this I find is quite lacking in the project space)…. Its common courtesy really & should be standard project practice.

  • I wonder just how many millions (or even billions) are wasted each year by people attending meetings unnecessarily.

  • (In the voice of Doctor Evil): ONE MILLION DOLLARS… [pinkie finger to mouth for effect]

    Seriously though, Cathy is exactly right about meeting minutes too… it is fair to say that most people in the room (provided you were able to book one!) will be human beings, and may switch on and off throughout the meeting (particularly if a large audience), so meeting minutes are a good way to make sure everyone gets everything.

    Equally, minutes can be readily distributed to people who couldn’t make the meeting, or just want to be apprised of what went on, and are even a historical record of how the project has progressed.

    I think I may productise the concept –

    MeetingMinutes(TM): All of the meeting, none of the fuss…

    • Meeting notes were standard when I worked at EDS and Capgemini and meetings always had a designated scribe. It always amazes me, though, how bad most people are at taking good meeting notes.

    • I just noticed your “MeetingMinutes(TM)” strapline.

      “All of the meeting…”

      Not at all! That’s why I specifically used the word “notes” rather than minutes. We are not interested in the minutiae of project meetings. They are not board meetings, after all.

      I think I need a separate post on this.

  • Visitor

    Hello Declan,

    some interesting notes on the utility (or lack thereof) on meetings here.
    Some interesting findings, including the one that implies they damage people’s brains – some thing like that! 🙂

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