Why meeting with a purpose?

Author: Çiğdem Tongal

On 19 October 2022, we gathered an international community of professionals to kick-start a conversation on hosting and designing meetings with a purpose. In this article, we share some key insights that we would like to move forward with the conversation.

Why “Meeting with a purpose”?

Conversations lie at the heart of organizational transformation. If we can change them, we can change everything. That’s why we gathered our close circle from the private sector, civil society, and academia with different levels of experience and working in various roles ranging from founders to specialists.

No matter which walks of life they were coming from, they had one problem in common: meetings.

As the saying goes, “This could have been an e-mail.”

It is true; research clearly shows that meetings are a universal problem. It is not just about the excessive time we spend at meetings. Not much to our surprise, our participants also shared that they, on average, spend half a working day attending a meeting and consider a third of this time as “time wasted.”

Inspired by a study conducted by Atlassian, we asked our participants “have you ever?” questions to get a deeper understanding of their meeting experiences. 

Here is a glimpse of the results:

Meeting with a Purpose (Numbers are derived from Registration Form Entries.)

Day in, and day out, we all complain about meetings, yet it seems like no one is taking responsibility. Take responsibility, much like a dinner party host, for who you are gathering.

Take responsibility for the meeting.
Imagine that you are hosting a dinner party at your house. Would you let your guests wander around your home without attending to their needs, ignore their conversations, or go to sleep while others are having fun in the living room?

I guess not! (Well, if you did any of those things, that would not be the best party ever.)

And that’s how we should approach meetings as well. But why is everyone ok with people doing other work, checking e-mails per se, while attending a meeting?

We forget that a meeting is, in fact, a gathering.
One truth that we seem to overlook about meetings is that they are simply another form of gathering. My star crush Priya Parker, a renowned facilitator based in the US and the author of the fantastic book ‘Art of Gathering,’ defines gatherings as “three or more people coming together for a purpose with a beginning, middle, and end.” 

And like every gathering, meetings should be hosted as well. 

Good hosting starts with being clear about the “why.” 
Ask yourself; why you gathered these people and what outcome you would like to achieve. It is not about the topic of the meeting; it is about “why” we are getting together. Setting a clear purpose of why you gather before rushing to send out calendar invites would change everything.

Hosting is more than facilitation.
What really makes a great host? When we hear the word hosting, the first thing that comes to mind is hosting other people. Yet the real gist starts with actually hosting yourself. At the ‘Meeting with a Purpose’ gathering, we realized that “me” is the most forgotten person in the room. Showing up without being distracted is all about being present and pre-sensing, much like how we would act while hosting a dinner party. 

Think like a curator.
A meeting begins before anyone meets. Though we may all be excellent hosts at meetings, sometimes we need to realize that meeting is a matter of process design. One needs to consider the before, the during, and the after. Yet unfortunately, we only focus on the meeting and the invitation without really putting effort into who should be there, what actions we would take after, etc.

Whenever in need, refer back to the purpose.
Purpose can be your north star whenever you need help managing the conversation. When you have a defined purpose, you know why you gathered all these individuals in the first place. Then you must ensure they are all aligned on why they are there and commit to it throughout the meeting. If we could focus on the purpose, that would change the atmosphere, and everyone in the meeting would ensure that all stick to it instead of glimpsing at topics.

Pinch some methods in.
When designing a meeting, one should choose the correct method to serve the purpose of the meeting. There are numerous fancy methods out there, from Open Space Technology to World Café, from Collective Mind Mapping to Fishbowls. The real challenge is to make sure that the method would serve your “why”. Without a clear understanding of the significance of how the method serves your desired outcomes,  all you would have is a good method at hand, not a good meeting experience.


In brief, considering the “why” we meet will essentially change “how” we will meet.