More Effective Meetings


To explore a wide range of possible causes of dysfunctional meetings.


About 40 minutes. You can easily expand or contract the game to fit the available time.


  • Twenty or more cause cards with different reasons for unproductive and inefficient meetings. Here are four examples:

Not sticking to the agenda

Domination by a few people

Critical information not available

Critical people absent

  • Four blank index cards for each player.


In the following description, the steps of the game are printed in regular type, while sample segments from an imaginary play of the game are printed in italics.

Prepare set of cause cards. Before the workshop, prepare a set of cause cards. Each card should contain a statement about a cause for unproductive and inefficient meetings. Prepare at least two cause cards for each anticipated player. If you cannot come up a sufficient number of different cause cards, use duplicates.

Ramona is conducting a workshop for staff members. Twenty participants have signed up for the workshop, including a few supervisors. The day before the workshop, Ramona prepares 40 cause cards.

Getting Started. Start the game quickly. When the players are ready, say, “I'd like to begin right off with a group activity that will help us get to know each other. It will also allow us to discover why many of our meetings are a total waste of time.”

Ramona catches everyone’s attention and gives her introductory presentation. Players look like they are ready for action.

Card Writing by Players. Hand out four blank index cards to each player. Ask them to write a statement about some cause of unproductive and inefficient meetings. These statements need not reflect the personal views of the writer; they should represent commonly-held opinions. Give some sample statements to the group.

The workshop starts at 8:30 a.m., and Sam arrives 5 minutes late. He sees the others writing busily. Ramona gives him four blank cards and asks him to write his probable causes of unproductive meetings. Sam thinks for a moment and comes up with the following:

  • Top management participants intimidate others.
  • Lengthy presentations; very little discussion
  • Emotional outbursts and temper tantrums
  • Too much acting and posi ng

Distributing Cards. After about 3 minutes, collect cause cards from all players. Add your prepared cards to this pile. Mix the cards well and give three cards to each player. Ask players to study the cause and arrange them according to their personal preference from the most to the least frequent.

Ramona collects the cards from the players and adds her own collection. She mixes the cards and gives three to each player.

Sam studies the three cards he receives and arranges them in the following order:

  • Time wasted on tangential discussions
  • Nobody does the homework
  • Group too large for dialogue

Exchanging Cards. Arrange the remaining cause cards on a large table at one side of the room. Tell the players that they may discard cards from their hands and pick up replacements. Players must work silently; they should not to talk to each other during this phase of the game. At the end of the exchange period, each player should have three cause cards that may or may not include cards from the original set.

Sam takes his cards to the table and rummages there. He discards two of his cards and picks up the following:

  • Too much griping and complaining
  • Too much  socializing

Sam is surprised to see another player eagerly picking up his discards.

Swapping Cards. Instruct players to exchange cause cards with each other to make their hands better reflect their personal opinions. In this phase, any player may exchange cards with any other player; every player must exchange at least one card.

When Ramona announces the beginning of the exchange, Sam wanders around until Mark stops him. Comparing cards, Sam sees one that says, “Lack of participation by some people.” He bargains with Mark until Mark agrees to exchange this card for Sam’s card about too much socializing. Before Sam can find someone else to swap with, Ramona calls time to end this phase of the game.

Forming Teams. Ask players to compare their cause cards with each other and to form teams with people holding cards that they like. There is no limit to the number of players who may team up together, but a team may keep no more than three cards. It must discard all other cards, and the three cards it retains must meet with everyone's approval.

Sam goes around the room checking with others. He runs across Vicky, who has excellent cards, and they decide to team up. The two set out to find other kindred souls. Peter wants to join them, and they agree, provided that he drops the card that says, “Unsuitable location.” In a few more minutes, their team recruits two other players, including Mark. They study the combined collection and reduce it to these three:

  • Inconclusive ending
  • Late start
  • No follow-u p

Preparing a Poster. Ask each team to prepare a graphic poster that reflects the three final cards. This poster should not include any text. After 5 minutes, ask each team to read its three cards, display its poster, and explain the symbolism.

After some discussion and debate, the team decides that Sam should be the artist and the others give him ideas. The final collage shows a group of Salvador Dali clocks, a line of lampposts stretching beyond the horizon, and a graph ending abruptly. During the “show-and-tell” period, Peter reads the three cards and Vicky assists Sam in explaining the poster.

Awards. Identify winning teams in each category like these:

  • Internal consistency among the three final cards.
  • Clarity of the message in the poster.
  • Appropriateness of the illustrations.

Sam's poster receives an award for the most appropriate illustration.