The (real) purpose of meetings is

To remove obstacles.

It’s not:

  • to get status updates (that’s what status update reports are for),
  • brainstorm ideas (that should be in workshops) or
  • wait for others.

The last one is important because it happens so often, we tend to get used to it.

My approach to meetings changed after I stared working with a project manager brought in on contract.

  • What mattered to him?
  • Projects at risk.
  • And projects at risk only.


In other words, any project that was likely to slip, miss it target, or impact another project. On track projects didn’t matter. Why discuss them? They’re on target.

The second change was that he tended to avoid team meetings. Instead, he held 5 minute meetings where you had to explain what was behind schedule – and how you planned to fix this. His job wasn’t to resolve this. That was yours. But he wanted to know you were working on it. If the problem continued, it was escalated.

This meant it appeared on a chart posted (deliberately) outside his office, in plain view of everyone. This chart could be interpreted as a name and shame strategy. It wasn’t popular. Neither was he. Did he care? Not a jot.

Very quickly a few things happened:

  1. Everyone worked to ensure their projects never made it to the chart. There might be good reasons why the project was slipping but somehow most people managed to resolve this a little quicker than usual.
  2. The attitude of ‘I’ll come to meetings a little as everyone else does’ was gone. Instead, as meeting were scheduled so tight – five minutes in and out – everyone had to up their game and be on time.
  3. It had a domino effect. This was probably his legacy in the best sense. When others saw how much time was wasted in meetings – and how others were wasting their time – their expectations of others changed.

The final twist was that what they initially resented in him, they embraced and expected of others.