Five tips for avoiding staff meeting nightmares

Regular staff meetings serve as a platform for resolving problems and hammering out critical decisions... except when they're poorly run. Steve Tobak offers some advice for making sure your staff meetings are actually useful.

What is it about staff meetings that brings out the worst in otherwise reasonable and intelligent business folks? Is it:

  • Their weekly frequency, come hell or high water?
  • Confronting a nemesis who gives you a hard time whenever you open your mouth?
  • Having to answer to an abusive boss in front of peers?
  • An opportunity to act out and childishly disrupt others?
  • A chance to demonstrate animalistic dominance?
  • A sign of a dysfunctional workplace or management team?

Meetings are hard enough to do effectively, but weekly staff meetings are the hardest. Why, I don't know. But in my experience, most managers are so inept at conducting effective meetings you'd think it's rocket science or a rare genetic trait.

Look, for companies to operate effectively, executives and managers need to know how to run staff meetings. That's where conflicts are resolved and plans are agreed upon. That's where critical strategic and operating processes are developed and managed.

If your staff meetings are ineffective, these five tips, from decades of experience both good and bad, will help.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog.

1: Be consistent

Have it weekly and for two hours, every week. Why two hours? Because in my experience, less is too short and more is too long. Really. Exceptions should be rare. Make sure attendees who are out for whatever reason send a replacement.

2: Manage the meeting

Whoever's in charge must ruthlesslessly manage the meeting. That means the boss is responsible for every aspect, including agenda, attendance, punctuality, and documentation. That person keeps everyone on topic and moves the meeting along, no matter what.

3: Don't allow any dog and pony shows

Staff meetings are not a time for show and tell or goofing around. They're for communicating status and discussing key issues affecting the company's business, not for each department or division to robotically share every little detail and get pats on the back.

4: Keep debate and conflict productive

Staff meetings are for debate and consensus on critical issues. Attack the problem or issue, not the person. Stay on topic, but don't beat a dead horse. Be open, honest, and forthcoming. Don't hold back, bulls-t, or sugarcoat issues.

5: Document key decisions

Key decisions are nuggets of corporate gold that pop out all too rarely. They must be published within one day. That also goes for follow-up or action required (AR) and an owner for each item, unless it's an executive staff -- they should be senior enough to track their own ARs.


20 - 30 minutes generally. Agenda and STICK TO IT. 1: Review last meeting's minutes and ask each attendee about progress on their action-required item. (Knowing they WILL be asked in front of their peers ensures there will be progress, and a current status) 2: New items from management that WILL go into the minutes and WILL be passed to staff for action (ask who would like to take on each task, that way they "own" it.) Get a committment from them as to completion date or progress date. (There should ALWAYS be something new here. Even if an urgent task has come up, and been allocated to staff between meetings, it should be entered here so progress can be monitored, and demonstrated to all staff - this helps morale, seeing the company moving forward). 3: New items from staff that they see need actioning, and treat each topic with the same respect Management requests get. Allocate tasks similarly to 2 above. 4: Any other business - keep it relevant and related to work. 5: Close by thanking everyone for their attendance and the efforts they are putting in to get tasks completed. Then announce when the next meeting will be, and commit to posting minutes/actions and agenda by a certain time/date.


I disagree. Two hours is waaaaay too long. And do not try to do two different things in the same meeting. A one hour MAX and yes it can go shorter meeting just for status updates should be the only mandatory weekly thing. No dog and pony and no reports if there is nothing to report on from your dept. If there are issues or concerns, then schedule another meeting just for that specific issue and invite the correct people. (Chances are they won't be all of the people at the regular staff meeting and may include others from outside the immediate staff). The meeting type presented in the article is exactly my nightmare of a meeting.


I wish my so-called boss could read this and finally understand that staff meetings are not for his stand up comedy gigs, yes he sometimes thinks of himself as of a stand up comedian, only his "jokes" are offensive to some people in the team.

Niall Baird
Niall Baird

There's nothing worse than heading along to the weekly staff meeting, to go through the minutes of the last meeting (if in fact, you actually have them), then sit around looking at each other to figure out what to discuss next. If you don't have a clear agenda, then cancel the meeting.

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