Why do negative starts derail meetings?

A negative start to a meeting has such an impact not only on the meeting but on the rest of the day. I have come recently to realize that its important to keep meetings moving forward without the negative. Not in the end that it is easy to shift negative meetings to the right but it is important to try.

In my book Transitional Services I published a number of patterns and anti-patterns for both communication and meetings. I’ve been sharing those on Linkedin as well (one at a time). I’ve posted the builder which is a pattern and an anti-pattern and the project pirate that can in the end be both a pattern and an anti-pattern but is most likely to be an anti-pattern. I have also posted one of my personal favorites the dancing bears anti-pattern. There are many more to come on linked in.

The problem as discussed in my book is that each of these types of personalities change the system that is your meeting. The inputs from the various types of patterns and anti-patterns you have in your meeting effectively can create the best meeting ever or one where everyone sits in the room wondering why am I here?

There in lies the problem. Why am I here is a bad question to be asked in a meeting. First off the meeting has really gone off the rails if someone says it out loud. Its bad if people are thinking it as well. Over the course of my career I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in that I’ve felt that way. Years ago I had a boss that had team meetings that by the end of the meeting every time I was counting how many hours were wasted and how much that time actually cost.

Cost implies loss and that is the intent. If you have a meeting where nothing comes of it, or worse people walk out with the why was I there attitude in the end the meeting is a loss. The definition of a meeting is where people come together. In the modern world we’ve expanded this to include remote professionals via web meetings and telephone.

Two quick things on the modern meeting:

  1. You have to run a telephone meeting differently than an in-person meeting. I am sure there is another pattern and anti-pattern in here. A meeting facilitator that doesn’t in the end facilitate the meeting.
  2. Meetings must begin and end on time.

Most meetings have soft beginnings. They start roughly 2-3 minutes after the appointed time. That’s acceptable only because if you include people on the phone there is that period of people connecting to the meeting and announcing themselves.

If however you aren’t done at the appointed time you have to ask people – can we continue? It’s the most critical part of meetings to consider the value of the time of all people involved. Beyond the consideration of ending on time is showing up on time. As a participant if you arrive late, you need to blend into the existing meeting and catch up on what was missed via notes or some other form of communication. If you force the meeting to reset or attempt to seize control of the meeting after arriving late you are in effect a project pirate.

Running an effective meeting means that there is consensus, output and notes that everyone can review. If you run effective meetings, people are less likely to show up late, Project Pirates, Dancing Bears and other bad meeting behaviors tend to fade away.

It is in the end easier said than done.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow