Meetings - when to attend and when to say no


I was just starting to draft some notes for a topic I’d like to send out to our HR team, and I thought you might have some perspective.    

Our culture is such that HR is literally invited to everything and it consumes A LOT of time.   And while a “seat at the table” is covete (especially for HR), I sometimes question whether this is always a productive use of time. 

 I’d like to send them the message that, first, if you’re going to be  a passive listener (working on your laptop, for instance), don’t attend.  And second, here are some questions for you to consider before you accept the meeting notice …  

  • Will there be HR-related discussion? In other words, are we to discuss resource deployment, organization design, people, culture, sensitive issues?
  • Do I have content/knowledge related to the topic, that is worthy of sharing?
  • Is this the best use of my time right now?
  • Will this meeting provide me critical knowledge to do my job?
  • Can I get the same information after the meeting?
  • What key decisions will be made in the meeting that I will need to do my job?
  • Do I own an agenda item? Or, can I be put on the agenda as they need me?    

Perhaps I’d format it as 10 questions to ask yourself before accepting a meeting invitation? 

I’d like the general “takeaway” to be something like … time is precious, don’t attend unnecessary meetings and if you do attend, be sure to add value (don’t just be a wallflower).  Probably need a more eloquent way to say that, but you get my point.  

What do you think about the topic?  What am I missing?
I love your topic and I don’t think you’ve missed much! In fact, I wish more organizations adopted your ideas. When I am coaching a leader (or working with a team) we often examine the calendar, to see where he or she could be more efficient.
Some of the problems I see are:
  • Double and triple-booked meetings. After we discuss each meeting’s purpose and outcomes, it becomes very clear someone else could have attended in their place (a development opportunity for a direct report, perhaps). Or, they really didn’t need to be there at all. Or, the person could have been invited in, as necessary, rather than be asked to attend each week. It forces the leader to pick and choose and hop from meeting to meeting. He or she arrives late and leaves early, or doesn’t show up, which sends all the wrong signals.
  • Attendees texting, or on laptops. I agree with you—if you aren’t adding value, what are you doing there?  And besides that, it’s rude. And for those who say, “Oh, I can listen and multitask,” I say listening is only half of your responsibility…your active participation is the whole point!
  • Putting meetings on people’s calendars electronically. Too many companies have fallen into the bad habit of allowing people to indiscriminately put a meeting on someone’s calendar through Outlook, or other scheduling software. Leaders need to stop this ineffective process. If a meeting shows up on your calendar, you should insist on knowing: What is the purpose of the meeting and why am I being asked to attend? Can I contribute what you need through any other means?
  • Boring, redundant, ineffective meetings. If there are a lot of people checking phones, working on laptops, or worse, not attending at all, it’s a signal the meeting is a dead, lifeless productivity sucker. The leader—or HR, in your case,--should encourage the team to step back and evaluate the meeting’s effectiveness. This would be a great way for HR to move from passive attendee and provide value-added help everyone would appreciate. 

In collaboration with the meeting leader, the HR person could add the following questions to the next meeting agenda:

  • Revisit our purpose—are we achieving it?
  • Who should be here are why? Who should we invite as needed?
  • Are we meeting with the right frequency?
  • Are we limiting our agenda to the right topics, or are we getting sloppy and cramming in too much, or wandering all over?
  • Is our decision making working? Or, are we rehashing topics, or, lobbying too much between meetings, instead of honest discussion in the meetings?
  • Is everyone contributing, or do some people do all the talking? 

I like the leadership you are showing on this all-important issue. And if you and your team decide to become proactive advocates of meeting efficiency and effectiveness, it will ripple out beyond your list of HR meeting questions, to a much bigger impact on the culture of your organization. Now that’s adding value! 

We take a comprehensive approach to executive coaching. We create a customized plan for each executive, based on the needs of the executive and his/her organization.  Call for more information about our executive coaching process.  

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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