So many meetings are productivity killers. They breed inefficiencies, waste time, and cause frustration among your team.
Consider this: The average employee spent 24 days in meetings in 2020. They sit in meetings for five hours a week and spend four hours preparing for them. Meanwhile, executives report 67 percent of meetings to be failures.
I’ve spent a lot of time in meetings with different organizations. I’ve learned a company’s approach to meetings is often indicative of their overall ability to get things done that connect to growth. This means that the better your meetings are, the more successful your company will be.
What makes a bad meeting?
While there are a lot of issues that can result in a bad meeting from people being late to multitasking to one individual engaging in an hour-long monologue, I’ve identified four primary drivers of bad meetings.
- Treating it as a status update. Updates can be shared via email, Slack, or your project management system, people! Spending an hour (or God forbid, two) on status updates is a colossal waste of time.
- Including everyone. Bringing everyone and their mother’s cousin’s sister into a meeting that discusses topics not relevant to those people is a waste — and it’s a quick way to frustrate your people. No one wants to sit through a meeting that doesn’t pertain to them, especially when they’re busy with projects that make a difference.
- Ignoring the schedule. Allowing a meeting to go overtime, particularly if you aren’t making critical decisions, is poor meeting practice. It is disrespectful to those present and it can cause stress, frustration, and again — lack of productivity!
- Ending without action items. Leaving a meeting without clear actions and owners of those actions means that meeting was probably a waste of time.
How can you make meetings better?
Al Pittampali, in his meeting manifesto, Read This Before Our Next Meeting: How We Can Get More Done, posits that no meeting should take place until a preliminary decision is made. Then, you should hold the meeting to resolve conflict or coordinate an action plan.
Note that he doesn’t include brainstorms in this, instead saying brainstorms are the anti-meeting and should work alongside your productive meetings.
Six ways to improve your meetings
- Use and share an agenda. An agenda is not a list of topics. An agenda should be a list of objectives for the meeting.
- Set preparation expectations. Often, making a decision involves preparation. Communicating preparation expectations ahead of time will help everyone come ready to contribute. If people aren’t prepared, reschedule vs. wasting time.
- Reject status updates. As discussed earlier, don’t allow people to spend valuable time in a status meeting. Pittampali advises managers should write memos and in a culture of reading, you will no longer need status updates.
- Respect the schedule. Start on time, end on time, and schedule another meeting if you need to make another decision.
- Limit who attends. Think about who really needs to be present. If that person is contributing to a decision or will take action items away from the meeting, then they should be there.
- Create an action plan. Every meeting should result in clear action items with owners and deadlines.
A final note
Change must be embraced from the top. But often I see busy business owners and executives schedule meetings intended to be status updates. Or they are the keeper of the agenda, which usually means it’s haphazard if none existent. We’re all guilty of this, but it is in our best interest to support a better meeting culture.