Five Meeting Interventions

Don’t Let Meetings Get the Best of You.

Five Interventions

Intervention 1: Be Clear on The Type of Meeting Being Run 

Typically, you’ll see three types of meetings and its best not to mix these meeting types.

Information Giving Meeting

The first type is where the chair or the leader just provides information. For example, a manager provides news, a teacher provides concepts and a preacher offers salvation.

Information Receiving Meeting

This is the reverse of information giving. So in this case, the chair focuses on receiving information from the group. Since American meeting leaders tend to be extroverts who to take joy at hearing themselves talk, this type of meeting is not as common as informational giving. 

Problem Solving Meeting

Communication patterns are extremely complicated than the simpler roles played when one is giving information or receiving information. During problem solving meetings, three processes go on simultaneously:

Be Clear on the Process

The Communication Process

The first one is the communication process use by members. This process often runs unconsciously and so very few people pay attention to it. Big mistake. 

Meeting Process

The second process, is also often undefined since many meetings run without an agenda. Often people walk into a meeting confused on why they are there.

Problem Solving Process

Image by Murray Johannsen. From a Training Program developed to teach Basic Problem Solving Tools needed in Groups

And finally, the last process affecting communication is the problem-solving process (or lack there of). Again in many groups this process is vague and ill-defined. In fact, you might find that most people don’t even understand the difference between a problem and a decision.

Intervention 2: Make Sure Proper Meeting Roles Are Being Played

One of the most critical meetings roles is that of the Chair. The chair must act as a leader, but leader is not the only leadership role that must be played. Chairs also must act as a facilitator and sometimes as a scribe. It’s immensely difficult to do all three of these well during meetings.

The Leader Role

Every group has a leader. And most the time, that individual tends to dominate the conversation. This role is necessary but difficult to do well. Typically, strong leadership is required at the beginning of a problem-solving meeting to frame the issue and to motivate individuals to come up with solutions. It’s even more critical at the end of the meeting when people have to ” volunteer” to perform some type work of extra work. A leader often adapts a dominant style of communication that uses statements. The expectation communicated is that subordinates must obey.

The Facilitator Role

The communication patterns exhibited by good facilitator are actually quite different from those seen in the leader. A facilitator is perceived to be neutral and strives to help the group reach a consensus. Because of this, facilitators tend to use statements less and rely more on questions more. A facilitator plays a leadership role in the group, but it is a very subtle one. 

Recorder or Scribe

This is a vital role typically not played in meetings across the world. If you stop to think about it, most people have very bad memories. Let’s go back to meeting that you had on Wednesday or better still pick a staff meeting two weeks ago. How much that meeting do you actually remember? Most people would say practically nothing. Thus, the importance of the recorder. It’s actually a powerful position since the recorder shapes results that come out of any problem-solving meeting. Typically, a good recorder needs to capture and communicate key decisions and actions.


This is the last major communication role in meetings. Unfortunately, may participants end up playing self-oriented communication roles; and these roles typically lead to dysfunctional results.

Intervention 3: Reduce The Likelihood of a Meeting Becoming a Ritual

Image by: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

In social psychology a ritual is, “A pattern of behavior carried out in a social setting.” The Catholic Mass, a Protestant sermon, a fraternity initiation and a college commencement are some examples. If you where a space alien studying modern human organizations, it would become blindingly obvious that meetings are a key organizational ritual of large organizations.

A prime example is the staff meeting. They tend occur at the same time, the same day, follow the same procedure, always run over time and are held whether or not its needed.

Staff meetings that become rituals have a mindless, automatic quality about them and the meeting leadership process has a static, habitual aspect to it. The agenda never changes and the minutes are never read.

Participants complain about staff meetings, but few possess enough guts to go to challenge the leadership of the meeting and suggest improvements. Most meeting leaders, on the other hand, exist in their isolation bubble, blissfully unaware of these complaints,

Intervention 4: Reduce Dysfunctional Group Norms

Norms are what everyone considers, well, normal. It’s the way we do things. It normal that meetings always start late and never, never end on time. Some of these norms are easy to break, but others can take a long-time to change. For example, it’s easy to get meetings to end on-time, but it’s hard to get them to start on-time.

Intervention 5: Choose the Right Leadership Style

Meeting leaders can act as autocratic or facilitative leaders. Effective meeting chairs use both styles. However, for reasons explained below, its better to use more of the facilitative style and less of the autocratic style.

Strong meeting leadership is important at the beginning of the meeting and at the end. People expect the chair to take charge at the beginning. Likewise, they want something to happen at the end of the meeting so that their time is not (again) wasted.However, the autocratic style does not work well in the middle of the meeting, if one needs to engage in problem solving. While you can order people to solve the problem, group creativity and innovation requires consensus. This is were the facilitative style excels—getting 


If one neglects paying attention to meeting leadership, meetings can devolve into an event wasting both time and money. To prevent this, meeting leaders must focus on preventing rituals, changing norms, playing the proper role and choosing the right style to get more horsepower from those assembled around the conference table.

Interesting Meeting Facts

• In 1993, the Wharton Center for Applied Research found that senior managers spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, while managers spend about 11 hours.

• But according to Weaver & Farrell, “The average manager spends as much as half his/her work time in meeting,” and as many as half of these meetings were unproductive.

Notable Meeting Quotes

“A committee is a thing which takes a week to do what one good man can do in an hour.” — Elbert Hubbard

“To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent.” –Robert Copeland

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” –Thomas Sowell

“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” — John Kenneth Galbraith

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings” — Dave Barry

“Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.” — Peter F. Drucker 

References and Resources

Benne, Kenneth and Sheats, Paul (1948). Functional Roles of Group Members, Journal of Social Issues.

Gorse, Christopher, McKinney, EIain, Shepherd, Anthony and Whitehead , Paul (2006). Meetings: Factors That Affect Group Interaction And Performance, Proceedings, Association of Researchers in Construction Management.

Work Skills For the 21st Century