Is Agenda Theater Ruining Your Meetings? | Harvard Business Review


It’s no secret: most meetings are terrible. As a behavioral scientist and two founders of a startup devoted to improving meetings, that’s the easy part of our pitch. But fixing them? Not so easy.

We’ve surveyed employees across industries and roles, we’ve read books and articles, we’ve looked at countless tools and techniques, and we’ve learned two things: First, many experts seem to think that the key ingredient of a good meeting is its agenda. It’s hard to find a book on meetings that doesn’t start with the importance of agendas, and most of the product managers we’ve talked to have indicated that they believed agendas were central to holding better meetings. And second, there is a wide body of research that suggests agendas alone are not enough to run effective meetings.

Indeed, while you might assume that detailed agendas improve your meetings, they may have exactly the opposite effect. This is because many employees unwittingly engage in a practice we call agenda theater: They sink time and effort into agendas that create the appearance of effective meetings, without actually improving how meetings are run. What drives this counterproductive behavior — and what should meeting-leaders do instead?

The Hidden Costs of Agenda Theater

In 2003, security expert Bruce Schneier coined the term security theater to describe “security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.” He argued that security theater is not only ineffective, but it can decrease actual security in two critical ways: First, even theatrical security measures expend the resources of both the organization implementing the security and the people subjected to it, leaving fewer resources for real security. And second, it can generate a false sense of security that causes people to become less vigilant, further decreasing real security.

The full article is available at Harvard Business Review.