What’s Really Going On in Your Meetings?

empty office

Whats really going on in your meetings?

In her classic text* on meetings, Helen Schwartzman classically defined a meeting as,

“A communicative event involving three or more people who agree to assemble for a purpose ostensibly related to the functioning of an organization or group, for example, to exchange ideas or opinions, to solve a problem, to make a decision or negotiate an agreement, to develop policy and procedures, to formulate recommendations and so forth” (p. 7).

Of course, most of us would agree: “Sure, that’s what we’re doing, ultimately getting stuff done.”

She went on, though, to argue that:

“Meetings, however, may be most important in American society because they generate the appearance that reason and logical processes are guiding discussions and decisions, whereas they facilitate relationship negotiations, struggles, and commentary. It is this process that can make meetings such frustrating occasions because they appear to be doing one thing whereas, in many ways, they are accomplishing something entirely different” (p. 42).

Reflection Moment:

Today, I just want to ask you a couple questions:

  • What are your meetings accomplishing? 
  • Are you really solving problems and making decisions, or does it just appear that you are doing that, when in reality your group members are jockeying for power, building or struggling through relationships, fighting among each other for limited resources, and/or enacting your organization’s culture?

Something tells me that if you thought it was the latter you’d take some time to re-think and re-structure your meetings.

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*Schwartzman, H. B. (1989). The meeting: Gatherings in organizations and communities. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Photo Credit: Avital Pinnick 



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