Requesting somebody’s presence at a meeting needs to be done in a manner that is clear, courteous, and, above all, timely.
Being in any position of leadership means that you need those people you manage to attend meetings. These meetings can be frequent and regular or once off and unexpected.
Meetings are necessary because they are the only way to communicate significant information to a group face to face and to receive all immediate feedback at the same time.
Inform the person individually about the reason for the meeting and why their presence is relevant. A small group of participants, a clear schedule, and the shortest possible duration will help you convince the person in question.
If people refuse to attend a meeting after asking them
If those people whose attendance you require at a meeting choose not to attend, then you have two options:
- A discussion – if the person’s attendance is optional.
- A confrontation – if that person’s attendance is mandatory.
These situations are very different and require different approaches.
A situation where people decline invitations to attend a meeting is quite normal and often completely acceptable. It is important to distinguish between the two. Failing to do this will put your popularity at stake and your leadership skills under scrutiny.
A discussion to persuade someone to attend a meeting is often (but not always) a mark of your respect for that person and your value of their presence.
However, once you have stated your feelings and hopes, the ultimate decision is up to the person. Interfering further is not courteous and not recommended.
This kind of situation applies to volunteer groups, community clubs, school councils, and so on where the position is not paid, and membership is voluntary.
Often attendance is expected and highly recommended, but there is no legal basis behind it. The only redress is in not voting that person into position next time it comes available.
Sometimes work groups form to achieve a task that is not work-related, for example, a social group that plans an end-of-year function.
Membership of these is voluntary, but failing to carry through with obligations impacts on members who do show up, and causes meetings to falter through annoyance and resentment.
A confrontation requires a private interaction and is best carried out face to face – this can mean in person or online.
A confrontation delivered via email or text is just another request for attendance and will likely be ignored again.
The interaction must involve a clear explanation of the requirements of the position that person occupies. These details should already be clear to that person.
If they are not, it might be worth investigating the part of their role description that details their duties and responsibilities, and to try and find out why they are not familiar with it.
Sometimes people have very good reasons for missing meetings. These can include family reasons, illness, transportation mishaps, and other things beyond their control. Always allow opportunities for an explanation.
If that person still refuses to attend a meeting
Again, this is not an uncommon situation and is something that good team leadership must deal with regularly, regardless of institution.
If meeting nonattendance has been justly investigated and continues, then the company process must take over. This is because nobody can force another person to attend a meeting.
Rather, there must be fair and logical consequences for nonattendance, and these must be followed through. For example, plans made and decisions carried out in that person’s absence can hardly be questioned by them at a later time.
If being present at meetings is part of an employee’s role, and they are fully aware of this, then the issue becomes one of performance management, and the company process should take up the issue and apply necessary disciplinary action.
Strategies to prevent the situation from occurring in the first place
Avoiding awkward situations and conflict is all about good planning.
- Employee (or volunteer) requirements should be stated clearly and precisely and made available to every person they apply to.
- Talk to people privately about their ability and capabilities of attending meetings. If they sometimes can’t be there, make yourself aware of this, and offer alternative ways for them to catch up on matters.
- Ask for feedback on your current meeting schedules and agendas and allow the feedback to be anonymous. This may be the only way you find out the issues behind scanty attendance habits.
Strategies to prevent the situation from reoccurring
If your staff is not attending meetings, there may be other things going on. There are several queries you can put to yourself to gauge the usefulness and the effectiveness of your gatherings.
- Do I call too many meetings?
- Are the meetings too long?
- Do the meetings actually achieve anything?
- Are there people who monopolize meetings without regard for anyone else?
- Are the meetings announced too abruptly?
- If the meetings are online, does everyone have the technology to be able to participate effectively?
- Do the meetings consistently leave the same people out of the discussions and decision making?
- Are the people who do attend meetings listened to?
- Do people who attend feel that their presence is valued or useful?
The best techniques to ask people to attend a meeting
Making attendance requests can be done in person, by email, by phone, or through a preprepared schedule that is available to everyone.
Requests are best made in a casual but firm manner, with clear expectations, and as briefly as possible.
For the casual and non-scheduled (but very useful) meeting
These should be brief, the reason for them should be as precise as possible, and an apology for the unexpectedness of the request is best included.
“Really sorry everyone, but can we meet for a few minutes after work. Something’s come up. Need you all there – promise to make it as quick and painless as possible.”
“Has anyone got a few minutes this afternoon to get together? The more the better. It won’t take long.”
“Is it possible to meet in the morning before we all start? Bring coffees, and I’ll supply some goodies. We can just go over the last few things as quickly as possible.”
For the scheduled and regular meeting
Expectations for a standard meeting should be set out at the beginning of the working year and the schedule needs to be made available to all. Attendance requirements should be firm but also friendly.
The program format should be clear and easy to follow, and the meeting agendas likewise.
Meeting agendas should be followed strictly and now allowed to deteriorate into arguments or meaner off into issues that are not relevant.
Set a time to end meetings and do not get into the habit of going past these. Ending meetings early from time to time can be an unexpected and very pleasant bonus at the end of a long day.
Timetables should be flexible, inclusive, and mobile, and meetings should be able to be carried out online effectively.
For the unexpected but very necessary meeting
The need for these comes up and cannot be avoided. They are most effective if there are not too many of them. The urgency of attendance needs to be stressed, which is why the fewer of them you call, the more effective they will be.
- Alert people individually, by name, and in private. This emphasises the importance of their presence.
- Set the meeting in a private place where it will not be interrupted.
- Make the meeting as brief as possible.
- Emphasize confidentiality expectations.
- Keep the number of people attending to an absolute minimum.
Asking someone to attend this kind of meeting can be worded in the following ways:
“Marion, can I ask you to meet me later today? Not for too long, I hope, but something’s come up, and I need your advice.”
“Phil, have you a minute this afternoon? I’m asking a few of us to meet in room TKS to look at something. I’m hoping it won’t take long.”
“Hey Juan, will be able to stay back tonight for a little while. There’s an issue, and I’d really appreciate your input. We’ll be as quick as possible. I’ve asked a couple of the others as well.”
Things to avoid when encouraging people to attend meetings
When all your hard work looks as though it might be having an impact, there are a few things that can potentially undermine your effect.
- Running meetings over time consistently
- Promising short meetings but delivery long ones
- Publicly reprimanding non attendees
- Announcing more meetings as punishment for missing them in the first place
- Excluding people on the basis of one missed meeting
- Delivering the invitation as a summons or command