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Amazingly, talented people who care can come together and yet fail demonstrably in a ‘meeting.’

Meetings fail is because the participants do not know HOW TO succeed. Meeting challenges include anything that takes the energy from meetings. To deal with low energy, first understand the causes of meeting challenges.

Without Structure

To contend with difficulties, take a closer look at how a normal business meeting processes information. Like all other forms of energy, unless you harness and manage meetings within a structured environment, chaos will result. Structure takes the creative energy generated in a group and converts it into something productive. The creative energy available to any group comes as ideas and information. When information and ideas are processed in business meetings, it is usually done so without adequate structure.

Information Problems

What Takes the Energy from Meetings with Good People and Intent?

Meeting Challenges

The following information processing problems occur because of unstructured meetings:

  • Disruptive interruptus—limits continuity of the group’s ideas.
  • Inconclusive progressions—moving on to another topic and not adequately concluding or summarizing the previous topic.
  • Information queuing—mentally storing comments while waiting for an opportunity to speak. When the time comes, the timing is inappropriate and the discussion gets derailed.
  • Mixing abstractions—two people talking at different perspectives and levels of detail, different wavelengths, or different levels of resolution.
  • Solution jumping—prematurely discussing solutions before the problem has been adequately defined.
  • Topic jumping—inappropriately changing the topic. (In the average unstructured meeting, groups change topics every minute and a half.)

Complicating Factors

Complicating even further are the tactics used by meeting leaders to deal with information-processing problems. Three common and unsuccessful approaches:

  1. Heavy-handed control—over reaction that results in the inhibition of creativity and analysis.
  2. Symposium style—speaking one at a time in sequence. Eliminates the advantage of spontaneous interaction.
  3. Withdrawal—results in no direction at all.

Decision Problems

Decisions are made generally by:

  • Default (that’s the way they wanted it anyway)
  • Dominance (the squeaky wheel syndrome)
  • Groupthink (no one disagrees or questions the decision because all assume someone—usually a strong leader—has the right answer. This is one of the explanations for the “Bay of Pigs” incident—no one argued with the decision).
  • Sheer exhaustion (we give up—do what you want)

Decision Styles

In response to the problems of decision-making, some leaders have adopted tactics such as:

  • Authoritarian (good control and quick, but is often wrong and creates low morale)
  • Consensus (encourages participation/ unanimity, but is slow without someone to facilitate it through discipline and structure)
  • Majority rules (very democratic and participative, but allows tyranny of the majority and is slow)
  • Minority rules (permits persuasion, but creates political resentment)


Remember, while the number of meetings is growing, the mismanagement of meetings is costing a substantial amount of money each year. Wasted time equals wasted resource. Meeting leadership is an underdeveloped management skill, but it can be learned.

Meeting Types

There are as many types of meetings as there are meeting leaders. Most meetings, however, fall into three general categories:

  • Information sharing meetings
  • Task-related meetings—directed or instructional
  • Task-related meetings—facilitated or developed

Loss of Creative 

Session leaders typically use more than 60 percent of the communication time available in a meeting, leaving at most 40 percent of the talk time for participants, or 24 minutes in a one-hour meeting. Unequal distribution means much of the creative energy located within the group is not being tapped, decreasing the productivity of the meeting. Hence, it’s no wonder meetings fail from low energy.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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