I’d Rather Gnaw my own Leg Off

I have just sat through the most boring, least effective meeting of my life.  If I could have gnawed my own leg off to escape it I would have gladly done so.

Unfortunately that wasn’t an option, it was interminable:

  • It wasn’t clear what we were there for: was it to update us? Was it so we made a decision?  What was the decision we had to make?
  • Unsurprisingly, since we didn’t know where we were going nobody had thought out how we were going to get there.  The discussion was poorly structured without a clear agenda.
  • Finally, when we eventually managed to get to the point where we had worked out what we needed to do, it became tragically clear that the person who held the key piece of information, the nugget that would have killed the meeting stone dead, was, sadly, on holiday.

The only saving grace of the whole session was that the “chair” had laid on tea and biscuits.  Unfortunately this had the side effect of making the whole thing just about bearable, so we sat there for the whole hour.

So, if you are going to hold a meeting with me then please please think through:

  • The purpose, what are you there to achieve?  Is it to provide information, to come to an agreement, to make a decision?
  • The process, how are you going to achieve that purpose? Is it a lecture, a brainstorm, will people vote, do you need consensus?  What is the mechanism you will use?
  • The people, who do you need? Who is accountable? Who should you consult? Who must you have?  Who can you manage without?

And if you haven’t got the decency to do all of that, please at least make it a stand up meeting, so that I am suitably uncomfortable and have the sense to walk away.

Effective MeetingsRead another opinion

Image by eveos


  1. Hi James,
    I can read your pain. What would have happened if you had not shown up or had walked out?


  2. Hi James – I attended this great session in the Agile 2011 conference in Salt Lake City Utah given by Dan Mezick, a writer (his book, Tribal Learning, should be out soon) and Agile Coach living in Boston.

    Dan spoke about the need for people to *opt in* to meetings and recommended “gaming” meetings. Meaning, that we create game rules, that we create a goal, and that we give ourselves a reason to participate. He also said “Be the Change You Want to See,” (which he took from Gandhi) and “Create the New Normal.” (maybe from Roger McNamee). He explained that if people are late to your meetings, then close the door and start without them. Don’t reward them by waiting. I think he’d recommend walking out of the meeting that has no direction.

    In the situation you found yourself in, would it have been possible to ask the meeting organizer explicitly for the purpose and agenda of the meeting? Would it have been possible to explicitly, before the group, try to figure out why everyone was there and who was really needed?

    It may not have been, if the person calling the meeting was senior enough. Sometimes it is possible to collaboratively encourage agenda-setting and goal-setting by making that your contribution to the meeting. Take the “serve-the-meeting-organizer” stance, maybe, and that might make it okay.

    If you really cannot encourage agenda-and-goal-setting, then just make sure that in your own meetings to have these.

    Hope this is useful!

  3. James Lawther says:

    Thank you for your thoughts guys.

    I think we suffer a culture that makes that sort of behaviour (walking out) unacceptable and rude which is perverse given the situation.

    I suspect that the way in which we change our behaviour to temper the actions of others is the route to improving the situation

  4. Hello James

    Totally get your pain as I have spent my fair share of time in pointless meetings.

    My view is that people who hold meetings rarely think if the meeting is the correct vehicle for achieving the purpose. And many time the person calling the meeting does not think of the purpose in a clear, concrete way.
    And even when that is done we do not give enough thought on what kind of process is needed to get from where we are to where we want to be. It is as if meetings occur on autopilot.


  5. There is an act of organizational courage to demand that all meeting have a clear purpose, and to show up on time and not allow the meeting to proceed until that purpose has been stated. Of course it’s quite rare for anyone to do this to their own boss or boss’s boss unless someone at very senior levels has authorized such actions as supporting a more productive culture.

    More often we see people lean into what is widely known as ‘the blackberry prayer’, as they allow the speaker to drone on whilst they check email, etc.

    But how about the first step — we all see the boring, pointless meeting led by others; how often do we ask if we are similarly guilty? Try inviting the audience to signal you if and when the meeting starts to get boring or seems pointless. It’s a act of courage for sure, but it also sets a great example!


  6. James Lawther says:

    Very true Marc, charity begins at home. My meetings are, of course, perfect.

Speak Your Mind