Holding horrible meetings is an exquisite kind of torture that the very best of the very worst bosses out there have worked really hard at. And they’ve gotten good at it – honing their craft towards slowly killing their cultures – one miserable meeting at a time. The good news is that for those hell-bent on squandering all that’s good in their people and teams, leaders have lots of chances to wreck their workplaces. They say employees spend one full day a week of work time prepping for and attending meetings, so death by meetings is like a fast-growing malignant tumor. Like death by thousand pinpricks… but fortunately with less blood.
If you’re a leader, how squirmy do you get in your comfy corner office chair reading this list? Any of the culture killers below look familiar to you?

  • You walk into the Monday 8 a.m. status meeting at 8:14 with an extra hot Venti Almond Milk Mocha Latte from the Starbucks in the lobby downstairs, which means you knew you were running late and still chose to wait in line, order your highly modified beverage and then wait in the other line for your highly modified beverage to be meticulously made, come up the elevator, take your coat off, and then waltz into the meeting that couldn’t start without you.
  • When your team asks to maybe move the 8 a.m. start time out a little later you make it clear that you want to start the day bright and early, which to them means that they are starting bright and early and that you get to press the snooze button twice. And have time to get your high maintenance drink.
  • You use the meeting time to catch up on your correspondence because You’re So Busy. Every now and then you glance up from your iPad and say, “What was that?” when you think you missed something important, and ask Jack to repeat the last several minutes of discussion to bring you up to speed. At this point, you’re only half listening.
  • You didn’t prepare an agenda for the meeting so you figure you can just wing it and talk about the market research results that just came across your desk. The problem is that Kim and Andy from marketing weren’t prepared to discuss this in the meeting, so they look like morons. (Kim and Andy are actually not morons at all, and brush up their LinkedIn profiles after the meeting for obvious reasons.)
  • Sandra, working from home, is dialing in for the 3 p.m. meeting and you passive-aggressively ask her how long her nap was today. An awkward silence seeps through the phone line.
  • You had asked Maurice to present an update on the cost management initiatives – which he prepared for until 8:20 p.m. last night – and you forgot all about it until 10 minutes before the end of the meeting when he reminded you of it. “Hey buddy, it’ll have to wait until next week,” you tell him, but all the numbers will have changed for next week, so he’ll need to spend four hours doing it all over again, hopeful that the update makes your next phantom agenda.
  • You ask Carol to take notes again, because, well, obviously Jamal and Steve aren’t going to.
  • You invited, with wanton abandon, 20 people from various teams to the customer strategy meeting, even though most could have been consulted or informed about decisions after the fact. (Juan from the IT help desk wondered why he was invited, but he didn’t know how to decline the invitation without looking bad, so he spent the meeting peeking at emails like, “JUAN WHERE ARE YOU I NEED YOU MY LAPTOP IS SMOKING FOR REAL IT’S SMOKING” build up.)
  • You didn’t invite Reesa to that customer strategy meeting, which might have been a miss, because you just agreed in her review last week that she should get more involved in strategic operations as an important way to develop and progress in the organization. Oops! She’ll definitely make it to the one next month.
  • You couldn’t resist getting into the weeds on the strategy discussion, spearheading a conversation about font options for the customer satisfaction email. You text Reesa, “Can we use Gill Sans in the csat email??,” who now feels like you’re rubbing her non-invitation to the strategy meeting in her face. She strategically considers the merits of quitting before getting a new job. You make everyone wait to move on until she responds to your text.
  • Things got awkward in the KPI meeting because the new guy, whose name you still can’t remember, sat in the chair you usually occupy in the Finance conference room – you know, the one with the taller back? You looked aghast, which kicked off an uncomfortable chain of events involving John the CFO asking the new guy to move, you saying, “No, no that’s ridiculous,” in a telltale tone that it wasn’t ridiculous at all. Then you resignedly sit in one of the chairs built for the common folk. The new guy looks nauseous and is wondering if his last job really was that bad.
  • When Janelle predictably shows up 15 minutes late, you ask the group to rehash what was just discussed – effectively starting the meeting all over for her. (You fail to address the tardiness issue in your 1:1 meeting later that day with her.)
  • Simon mentioned that there was confusion with the new bonus plan so you sent an urgent meeting request for a full hour tomorrow morning, when maybe a couple of specific and separate 10 minute conversations could have cleared the issue up instead.
  • You thought your administrative assistant was looking after coffee and those mini egg bite things you like for that special Thursday morning meeting, but because she couldn’t read your mind, she didn’t order them. Everyone is under-caffeinated and you’re pissy without the egg things you were looking forward to.
  • In a grand gesture of “Hey Guys, I’m on Your Level,” you decide to roll up your sleeves and record the brainstorming notes on the whiteboard. Strangely, the ideas you like all get recorded, but the ideas you’re not that fond of don’t get captured. Rhonda wonders if she is a ghost because nothing she says was written down.
  • Every time Carol brings up a point you tell her to “take it offline,” (and what does that even mean?) yet every time Janelle goes down a rabbit hole with a newfangled idea, you indulge it and go there with her. That’s the best part of having no agenda, though, right?
  • The financial review meeting was scheduled for an hour, but you spent the first 10 minutes talking about the Bears game so the meeting isn’t finishing on time. You assume everyone can stay another 15 minutes, because your schedule is clear, so you keep talking. Others scramble to pick up the pieces of their day in the aftermath and text their partners that they won’t be making it home on time.
  • You hijack the agenda for the HR budget meeting, not noticing that you’ve crushed the souls of Maggie and that other Millennial who spent an inordinate amount of hours on their PowerPoint deck.
  • You fail to notice the pre- and post-meeting energy change amongst your team members: they walk into the meeting with energy and pulses, and they leave the meeting like barely-functioning corpses. Does it have anything to do with the way the meeting is ran? No. It’s probably that shoddy HVAC system.
  • You talked about a lot of ideas and problems in the meeting, but everyone leaves with a question of “so now what?” worried that in next week’s meeting you’ll show up disappointed that people didn’t take action on the things that were never actually articulated or assigned.
  • You change the location for next week’s status meeting from the Marquis Conference Room to the Arrowhead Room, and the calendar invitation email flummoxes everyone. The emails mount: “What changed from the first meeting?” “Is this is a NEW meeting?” “The old meeting is still in the calendar.” “I think you meant the Concord Room, right?” Because you did mean the Concord Room, not the Arrowhead Room, you re-send the new invitation, and now, everyone’s minds explode.
  • You were going to prepare for tomorrow’s quality control meeting, knowing that when you review the agenda and supplemental materials, you ask better quality questions and make the decision-making process more efficient. But there were so very many attachments to open and read. And you just started the new Narcos series on Netflix, so…
  • Responding to input from your senior team that you’re having too many meetings, you schedule a meeting to discuss.

Other amusing details from the aforementioned study: 46 percent of respondents said they’d prefer to do almost anything else instead of sitting in a status meeting. Seventeen percent said they would choose to watch paint dry. Eight percent said they would opt for a root canal. Seven percent of people would rather get a mullet hairstyle than attend a meeting. Yowsa.
Does it even need to be said that if meetings provide ripe chances to kill your culture, they also provide equally ripe chances to enhance your culture? Meetings often suck, yet they don’t have to suck the life out of everyone. They can be action-oriented; they can give people a chance to socialize and have a bit of fun; they can be forums for recognition; they can be chances for people to show their stuff– stuff they’ve been working hard at and take pride in. Meetings move things forward and keep people connected and in the know. When in doubt, have an agenda, and clearly communicate the objectives, action items, and deliverables. And serve egg bites.
Want more ways to demolish all that’s good at your office? Then you need to read more Culture Killer articles!
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Promoting People
Onboarding People
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Jodi Wellman

Jodi is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life, loves red Skittles (maybe too much) and finally got a Happy Spectacular logo tattoo.