Meeting To Meet: Why We’re Terrible at Learning in Meetings

April 8, 2023 — by Elizabeth McGee

Originally posted on AEA365 Website under Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building on April 7, 2023. It was curated by Elizabeth Grim. Effective Meeting Strategies

My name is Elizabeth McGee (she/her), founder of LEAP Consulting, and the soon-to-be Center for Radical Evaluation and Applied Research.

Meetings. There are too many. They’re too long. They’re not productive. We don’t learn. And yet despite all of this, we don’t give them much attention even though they fill hours of our day. We don’t typically think of Effective Meeting Strategies as a skill critical to evaluators, yet, they are where most evaluative learning happens.

After observing numerous meetings in my 17 years as an evaluator, here are three common meeting blunders and suggestions for how to work against them to better facilitate learning.

Lessons Learned

1. We don’t center our meetings around purpose and vision.

How many meetings have we attended where we don’t know why we are there or what we are trying to accomplish? Meetings can become unproductive when people lose sight of the bigger picture and learning can become short-sighted.

TIp: Create and communicate the goal of the meeting and center teams around that goal; articulate the goal’s relationship to the larger vision of your work.

Consider: How purpose and goals can not only help us to learn, but learn in a way that is most relevant to the vision of our work.

2. We don’t invest enough time in planning.

Productivity and learning aren’t magical, it’s facilitated through foresight, planning, and discipline. A lack of planning results in a Effective Meeting Strategies that feels circular, like nothing is moving forward, and in which meaningful learning cannot take place.

Tip: For every hour-long a meeting is, you should spend half that amount of time preparing for that meeting.

Three tips for pre-meeting planning:

  • Consider what critical items went unaddressed in the previous meeting and how they will be addressed in this meeting.
  • Assess what Parking Lot items need elevation given where the work is at.
  • Determine what’s working and what’s not in terms of, both, the project and the infrastructure that supports the carrying out of the work (e.g., meetings, agenda, project management tools).

3. We fail to build learning explicitly into our meetings.

People can be dogmatic about accomplishing every item on an agenda.  Fixating on getting through every agenda item before the end of the meeting can shut out emergent team needs, priorities and learning.

Tip: Prioritize learning and integrate learning-specific items into your meetings.


  • Have we built Effective Meeting Strategies into our agenda?
  • Is there space to address items for emergent learning? For ideas or questions not on the agenda?
  • What is the purpose behind each agenda item? Do we feel this purpose is being achieved? If not, can we remove the item or find alternatives?

4. We don’t build infrastructure to effectively give and receive updates.

Often in meetings we are asked for updates. This often results in team members often presenting information in a way that isn’t especially relevant or digestible. Updates then take more time on the agenda than learning and problem-solving. 

Tip: Provide structures that support the team in knowing exactly how to give and receive updates to facilitate greater team learning.   


  • Project Management tools should be used as a shorthand to provide updates in meetings. Project component leads can share which items are on track without going into details, and instead prioritize time for overcoming roadblocks. 
  • Put processes in place to ensure that updates are received and integrated into work plans, so you don’t lose your next steps.

Rad Resource

Perfect Amount of Meetings Per Day

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