Can I Work During Your Meeting?

Has this happened at one of your meetings?

A colleague shows up in hurried fashion, spreads their papers and laptop on the conference table and frankly states, “If it’s OK with you, I need to work through your meeting.”

“Um. Actually no.”


“Actually, it is not OK. If you have work to do, you may be excused. But the rest of the team is going to have an interactive and productive discussion in this meeting.”

And the team sends them on their way.

Meetings Are For Meeting

Meetings are almost always cited as one of the top time wasters at companies.

So, why would you let someone intentionally sabotage your team’s time?

A good leader knows that this type of action is probably a sign of bigger issues…

– The individual is putting their needs above everyone else’s

– They are not getting their work done and are struggling to keep up

– They have a lack of situational awareness of the work environment

I am in no way saying that people should be forced to be in meetings if they have obligations to address.

Far from it, I believe in the giving your employees the “Right to Decline.” That is giving them the right to decline meetings if they need to.

If you truly have something more important than the meeting, by all means, excuse yourself and take care of it.

Everyone will trust your judgement.

Keep Your Meetings on Track

Don’t let your meetings be derailed by one or two inconsiderate or non-participating individuals.

Here are some key points to help keep your meetings on track:

  • Keep Them Short – Most meetings are scheduled for too much time. And they will expand to fill that time. Maybe your team is bringing work to meetings because they don’t have enough time outside of meetings. Try cutting your meetings in half.
  • No Cell Phones – This issue has become an epidemic in most companies. People playing on their smartphones during meetings. Either turn them off or better yet, leave them at the door. Some workplaces keep a basket near the door for checking phones before the meeting begins.
  • Be There or Don’t Be There – Participation is a must in meetings. That is why you are there. If a team member is not needed or doesn’t want to be part of the discussion then by all means they should be allowed (or asked) to leave.
  • No Laptops – I prefer no laptops in a meeting. It is amazing what it does for productive discussions. Some will try to use the “I’m taking notes” excuse, but I believe the clickety-clack is more distracting than it is worth.
  • Smallest Table Available – Many people overlook the impact of the meeting setting. The space you choose for your meeting can make all the difference. Get a space that is just big enough for your team. Getting the extra large, fancy conference room lets people hide out at the far end of the table.

Meet For a Reason

Ensure that when you team meets that they are there for a reason.

Don’t allow particpants to be distracted by other work, cell phones, or their email.

Choose a workspace that is conducive to the discussion at hand and keep people engaged.

You may just find that your meetings are shorter, more productive, and even more enjoyable.

How you keep people engaged in your meetings?

8 thoughts on “Can I Work During Your Meeting?

  1. I’ve heard of people getting rid of chairs and as a result cutting the meeting time drastically. Love that — hate meetings!

    1. @LainEhmann Love this!

      Standing meetings are a great way to cut down on the chit-chat and wasted time during meetings. 🙂

      Actually, getting people on their feet can also get their energy levels up, too!

  2. I must sadly admit to working through meetings. In the age of telecommuting there are many teleconferences where you can’t tell who is reading/answering email or anything else through the course of the meeting. I am a culprit and must stop it. I owe the chairperson and team my attention or I shouldn’t even be on the phone. When I am the chair I ask allot of questions directly to attendees to ensure they are engaged and because I want their input. This isnt the case for many other chairs and I am embarrased to admit that I take advantage of it. Thanks for the slap in the face. I will stop my hypocrisy and just decline if I have no intention of paying attention.

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