The One Thing Your Meeting Must Have or It Will Fail

one thing meeting must have

Most meetings are bad and a waste of time. In this article, I will show you the one thing meeting must have so they do not become a bad meeting.

A quick look at how well project meetings go will show you if the project is going to be a success or failure.  I will show you the first step in running meetings. I call it Meetings the Smart Way – How Project Managers Can Run Successful Project Meetings.

In this post, I will cover why meetings are bad and show you how much bad meetings cost. Then I will move on to why we need good meetings before going on to cover how to have a good meeting. I will then show you the one one thing each meeting must have. I will finish on how to create this one thing for your meetings.

By the end of this article, you should have a good understanding of what makes a bad meeting and what makes a good one. You will also know what to do with your meetings to ensure they are good and not bad.

Meetings should be the last thing to do not the first. Click To Tweet

Most Meetings are Bad

How many meetings have you had this month? How many meetings do you have planned next month? I bet your calendar is full of meetings. But how many of them did you think were any good and worth spending your time doing? The truth is most meetings are a waste of time, but there is a few particularly project based that we have to have. For example to kick off a project, so everyone understands the project requirements.

It also seems that the more senior you become in an organisation, the more meetings you end up with invites for. The meetings also get longer and become back to back. Before you know it, you are in meetings all day everyday. But how many meetings did you need actually to attend? It is no wonder that meetings have such a bad reputation.

I also think a lot of organisations suffer from meeting culture. Where the default answer is to hold a meeting. If you want to find out if you are in a company that has a meeting culture, there is one simple thing to do. Try and book a meeting room for tomorrow. If your company has a meeting culture, then the chances are there will be no meeting rooms available.

The organisation of meetings is often very poor. With none of the attendees taking the time before the meeting to prepare. Also sometimes neither does the chair of the meeting! People often turn up late to the meeting and then the time spent in the meeting is discussing problems. The meeting then runs over the allocated time. The result is people are then late for their next meeting.

The Cost of Bad Meetings

Bad meetings don’t only waste time. They also waste large amounts of money. The research was conducted to estimate the cost of bad meetings on the American economy. The research estimated that 11 million meetings take place each day across America. Therefore the research concluded that the cost of bad meetings is $37 billion every year. That’s no small chunk of change. You can read a summary of the research here.

Shirley Fine Lee (The Meeting Wizard) shared lots of interesting statistics on meetings on her site. Here are two that I found interesting.

According to the National Statistics Council, an average of 37% of employee time is spent in meetings. During an average meeting, agenda items are covered in only 53% of the scheduled time, with the remaining time as unproductive.

Executives average 23 hours per week in meetings where 7.8 hours of the 23 are unnecessary and poorly run, which is 2.3 months per year wasted.

You can find other interesting statistics on Shirley Fin Lee’s site.

According to a 2012 study, the average manager spends more than 4 hours per week in meetings. Their intentions are (usually) good. Yet, most meetings fail. The main reason why is because people do not think about the way they plan and organise their meetings.

The most frustrating thing is that there are efficient meeting organisation techniques. Still, most business organisations remain stuck in the past.

This infographic by TED illustrates the cost of bad meetings.

Why we need good meetings

The frustrating thing is projects need meetings to help them be a success. The reality is face to face communication is the best way to communicate about a project. A meeting is a great place to motivate team members. On a project, they can help people realise the dependencies. Knowing who is waiting for you to finish a particular piece of work will help provide urgency. A good meeting can provide excellent direction. It can also give team members clarity. The good news is it is easy to have a good meeting that will help your project be a success. Also as a project manager, you will stand out as someone who knows what they are doing. This, in turn, leads to more people trusting you. You can then become a confident project leader. After all, if everyone else runs bad meetings word will spread that you run good meetings.

How to have a good meeting

So what is the secret to holding a good meeting? A purpose. That is it. If your meeting has a purpose, then it is worth having. If you are meeting for a general discussion with no purpose, then do not expect to have a good meeting.

Why a Meeting

The first question to ask yourself is, do you need to hold a meeting? Can you get the outcome that you want from an alternative approach? If you are calling people together for an update on your project progress is there a different way? For example, could you point them to a project dashboard or a status update report? Do not go with the usual approach of if in doubt call a meeting. Instead, go with if in doubt do not call a meeting. Meetings are so time consuming and costly that they should be the last thing to do not the first.

What Will the Meeting Achieve?

Once you have established that yes you do need a meeting, then next step is to write down the purpose of the meeting. The way to do this is to write down the objective of the meeting. Make sure when you write the objective for the meeting it is clear and easy to understand. You want all the attendees to be under no doubt about what the meeting will achieve. If your meeting does not meet the objective, then the meeting has failed. So it must be easy to measure if the meeting has achieved the objective or not.

I like to write my meeting objectives the same way I write the scope of my projects by using SMART.

Specific – Do not make the objective open-ended. Make the objective decision focused. For example “The objective of the meeting is to confirm which design the project will develop.”

Measurable – How will you know achievement of the objective? By being specific should make it easy to measure achievement of the objective.

Achievable – Do you have everyone you need in the meeting for agreement on decisions? For example could the sponsor who not at the meeting overrule any decision after the meeting? If so you might need to rearrange the meeting for the achievement of the objective.

Realistic – Do you have all the facts before the meeting that would make a decision possible? With unanswered questions is it realistic to expect decisions in the meeting?

Timely – Is there enough time to make a decision? Be made in the time allocated for the meeting. How long do people need to make a decision?


So as we have seen most meetings are bad. Most of them do not have an agenda and run over their allocated time slot. They cost companies millions of dollars in lost productivity. We need good meetings as this increases the chance that projects will be a success with delivery on time.

To have a good meeting there needs to be a strong reason to have the meeting. If you can achieve the outcome without a meeting, then do not have one. A meeting is the last resort.

Every meeting should have a purpose which is clear and easy to understand. The purpose of the meeting is an objective. The best way to write a meeting objective is to use SMART. Make sure your meeting objective is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

This is the first step in how project managers can run successful project meetings. The next article is on eight agenda items for a successful project kick off.

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