A Meeting Attendee's Bill of Rights

Project team

Sloppy meetings drive me crazy.  It's such a waste of time when people sit around for 15 mins waiting for everyone to arrive.  Or when it's not clear what the point of the meeting is, or when a critical person is missing. I figure that if I am giving up my time, I deserve certain rights. Even as a junior person or a newbie, you deserve a well-run meeting:

Meeting Attendee's Bill of Rights

Every meeting should have:

  • A defined start and stop time -  Being late to meetings shows disrespect for the rest of the organization.  Don't do it. Ok, if your boss or someone else in authority is habitually late to a meeting, there's not a lot you can do about it, but at least you can be on time.  And it's ok for you to point out when there are only 10 mins or 5 mins left in the meeting schedule so final decisions and actions can be agreed upon.
  • An agenda - Good meetings on complex topics will have written agenda.  But even in informal meetings, if you don't understand the purpose of the meeting, ask.  You will not be alone.  If the others seem to be getting right into the heart of the meeting, stop them and ask "I'd like to make sure I understand what we are trying to accomplish here."
  • Handouts distributed ahead of time - It's nuts to hand out multipage documents during a meeting and expect the attendees to review them.  Send materials out before the meeting.  And if you get meeting materials ahead of time, you are obligated to review them before the meeting.
  • People with a reason to be there - Everyone in a meeting should know why there are there and what their role is.  If you aren't part of the decision-making process, is your role to provide information?  If you aren't there to provide information, are you there observe and report on the results to others?  If you aren't there to observe, why are you in the meeting?
  • Someone in charge - Someone has to be running the meeting and be empowered to manage the discussion and the clock.  Sometimes that responsibility can be shared by a couple of people, but at least one person has to be able to fix a meeting that runs off the rails.
  • Balanced input from the attendees - Another responsibility of the meeting organizer is to make sure that everyone is participating according to their roles, that opinions are expressed fairly and dissent is heard, and that decisions actually reflect the consensus of the group.
  • A summary and (possibly) action items - So we agreed on a purpose or a goal for the meeting.  Was it achieved?  Will someone sum up what was agreed to and who is going to do what, and when?  These should be explicit and you should write them down.
(You can download a copy of the Bill of Rights from the attachment below to post in your conference rooms or use as a checklist to start your next meeting.)
See the section on "When good meetings go bad" for more on etiquette but here are two common breaches of meeting etiquette:   
  • Interrupting - I came from an argumentative background and I like to debate.  One of the hardest things I had to learn early on is to listen without interrupting.  I used to think that if I knew what the other person was going to say, I could save them some time by saying it for them - and it would also show how smart I was.  This is just rude and if it happens to you, you won't like it.  Even if the other person is slow and dumb, you have to let them finish.
  • Showboating - You'll find a time in a meeting when you'll come up with a really good line at someone else's expense.  You'll want to say "We could do it your way, but I thought we wanted the project to succeed."  Or "That's not the worst idea I've heard - but it does make it into the Top 10."  These things are so much fun to say, but the intention is to degrade the other person and make you feel good.  Resist the temptation.  Write the line down in your notes.  Tell your best friends after the meeting.  But don't say it out loud.
A well-run meeting is a beautiful exercise in collaborative problem solving.  A poorly-run meeting is a colossal waste of time. Stick up for your rights.
PDF icon Meeting Attendees Bill of Rights.pdf57.55 KB
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Submitted by brucekthiesen on
Well put, Doug.  It's remarkable how we need to relearn this time and time again.  It's only common sense and courtesy, but it seems to be elusive or ignored in so many places.