How I Learned the Real Reason Why Meetings Matter

“The purpose of this meeting is….”

I wrote that sentence on hundreds, maybe thousands, of memos during my four years as a political scheduler and fundraiser. My first boss, then a Congresswoman, taught me to start every conference call, every one-on-one, every conversation from the backseat of the car while we raced to the airport for her flight after votes ended — what are we talking about, and why are we talking about it?

In 2018, that boss ran for the Senate, and practically overnight, we built a large-scale statewide campaign infrastructure. We had to quickly create new decision-making processes, communication structures, and workflows. A critical piece of that became the Scheduling Meeting.

Every Sunday at 10:00 AM, we met for three or four hours to hash out the schedule and campaign priorities for the coming weeks. Each senior member of the staff — political, fundraising, communications, press, digital — was expected to come to the meeting prepared with the evidence needed to fight for their priorities for what our candidate did with her limited time.

No one was excited to commit their next 36 Sundays to a windowless, cramped conference room, laptops on laps and sitting on folding chairs or, for latecomers, the floor. But once they got onboard, it became the constant refrain — “I’ll have this ready by the Scheduling Meeting,” “I don’t know the details, but I’ll write it up before the Sunday meeting,” “Let’s table this until we have everyone in the room on Sunday.”

A few weeks into the new process, as we waited in a line to shuffle out of the aforementioned conference room and back to our hand-me-down metal desks, I mentioned to our campaign manager that the Sunday meeting seems to be all anyone thinks about all week, after yet another conference call ended with “more to come on Sunday.” He smiled.

“You’re in on the joke,” he said, spitting his dip into a plastic water bottle, “It’s not about the meeting. The meeting is an output of a process. The process is that people are preparing for the meeting all week long.”

And that was how I learned the real purpose of a meeting. By putting it on the calendar, bolding headers on the agenda, creating a whole slide dedicated to a single topic, you give weight and significance to the priorities, to what is important. Certainly, meetings are valuable for sharing information, aligning priorities, connecting different groups together, but those are the byproducts. Beyond the tactical action-items and scheduled reminders, meetings serve as a touchstone for the big picture to ensure everyone knows what actually matters.

A few years later, my setting looks a lot different than that concrete-floored office in a Phoenix strip mall. My meetings take place in business school breakout rooms, or at a trendy Baltimore coworking space, or these days, from a card table in my childhood bedroom while my cat sprawls across my keyboard.

I come back to that lesson again and again, and every time it still makes me smile. Whether you’re a startup founder defining your strategy for the next quarter to your investors in a board meeting, or a group of idealists trying to flip a Senate seat, meetings serve as mile markers for a group’s progress toward a shared, ambitious goal. Now I’m in on the joke — it’s not, ever, really about the meeting.


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