Why do meetings lose focus?

A recent study by Robert Half (a recruitment company) reported that for New Zealand respondents the main reason meetings were considered a waste of time was “participants lose focus and discuss anything they want, rather than the issue the meeting was called for”.

Meetings lose focus for a number of reasons - but the core reason is that the standard meeting process is not designed to maintain focus. The agenda purports to maintain focus but in fact does the opposite and the job of maintaining focus falls to the chairperson. And, the common “solution” to the problem is touted as better, stronger chairpersonship.¬†

It’s so much easier if the meeting process you use provides a structure for maintainng focus. You don’t need a ¬†particularly “good” or “natural” or “strong” chairperson because the process does so much of the work.

Many of the meeting training courses that are offered train people in how to work with or overcome a flawed and failing standard meeting process. It’s so much easier to use a better process and then the rest takes care of itself.

Why does the Action Meetings process work? Because each point of failure in a meeting was analysed back to its root causes and contributing factors and interventions designed to prevent each potential failure.

How does the Action Meetings process address “loss of focus”?

  • clearly define meeting purpose and overall outcome ahead of the meeting
  • assess whether a meeting is the best process to use to achieve the overall outcome
  • ensure that only the relevant people attend the meeting
  • allow people to leave at the start of the meeting if they feel they are unable to contribute
  • develop the “agenda” as a set of outcomes
  • the “outcome agenda” is generally a much more detailed list of smaller items - easier to focus on each smaller item
  • clearly separate out compliance, operations and strategic matters into different meeting sections
  • explicitly agree with participants they will stick to the agreed outcomes
  • review and agree the outcomes as one of the first meeting steps
  • deliver ownership of the meeting to the participants not the chairperson
  • allow participants to remove any of their own distractions at the start of the meeting


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