23 hours per week. 

That’s how much time the average executive spends in meetings nowadays. No wonder so many employees end up working extra hours just to complete their essential work!

Worse, many of these meetings aren’t worth the time and focus they’re taking away from other priorities. 

One survey of senior managers found that excessive, inefficient meetings impacted both individuals and teams. 64% of managers said meetings interfered with deep work, while 65% said meetings compromised their ability to complete their work at all. Meanwhile, 71% of managers found meetings unproductive, and 62% said meetings in their organizations neglected opportunities to improve team cohesion.

Meetings get a bad rap, but they’re also an essential organizational tool. Done right, they enable teams to develop ideas, make decisions, solve problems, plan, collaborate, identify assumptions, and align around expectations and goals.

Done wrong, they can be a time-wasting nightmare for attendees.

Here’s how to ensure that your organization’s meetings contribute to teamwork and strategic goals, rather than taking valuable time and focus from overworked employees.

Step 1: Start at the Top

There are plenty of ways to improve individual meetings — and we’ll discuss those in a bit.

But fixing bad meetings, eliminating unnecessary ones, and preserving more time for employees to work and focus needs to be an organizational responsibility, as well as an individual one.

That’s because team members may be invited or expected to sit in on half a dozen (or more) other ineffective or unnecessary meetings each week. Some might be required to attend regular meetings at times that are disruptive to their work and productivity. Or there might just be too many standing meetings on the calendar for too many members of the organization.

All those are problems best tackled as part of an organization-wide initiative, so that there’s time, space, and support for examining the current culture and expectations around meetings, raising issues, and finding solutions. 

Step 2: STOP These Productivity Killers

What makes a meeting inefficient or unproductive? In a nutshell, lack of organization and lack of follow-through. Bad meetings tend to share these 6 common problems:   

  • Meetings lack a clear purpose. Organizers who don’t know their desired outcomes will rarely get what they need from a meeting.
  • Attendees don’t know why they are there. Without clarity on the goals of the meeting and the rationale for their participation, attendees can neither prepare properly nor assess whether their attendance is truly necessary.
  • Attendees show up late or disrupt the proceedings, missing key information and causing delays.  This wastes everyone’s time and renders the meeting less effective. 
  • The meeting lacks a clear facilitator. Without someone guiding the conversation and ensuring that the agenda is followed, the discussion wanders and attendees fail to arrive at decisions and consensus on key matters.
  • The meeting lacks a summary and next steps. All meetings ought to enable the work of the organization to take place more efficiently.  As a result, every meeting should produce clear action steps, and each action item should have a clearly identified owner.  Take time at the end of your meeting to cover this ground, or you’ll find that little gets done between gatherings.
  • There’s no follow up. Too often, we rush from one meeting to another, without taking time to assimilate what we’ve discussed. To ensure that everyone has the details they need — and remembers what they’ve committed to — organizers should plan to distribute meeting notes and check on progress between meetings.  

During a bad meeting, we can easily see what’s gone wrong — the lack of preparation, the lack of leadership, and the lack of action-oriented follow-through. But somehow, more often than not, we repeat the same behaviors in the next meeting… and the one after that.

This is the very definition of insanity: repeating the same behaviors while expecting different outcomes. 

So before you call your next meeting, take steps to make real improvements.

Step 3: START Employing These Meeting Best Practices

You can make a tremendous difference in the next meeting run simply by following these recommendations:

  1. Set a clear purpose for your meetings.  Be sure to articulate what you plan to achieve and what outcome you need to walk away with.
  2. Think through your approach to achieve that purpose or outcome. This becomes your agenda — your facilitation plan for the meeting.
  3. Invite only those people who can help you achieve your purpose.
  4. Shorten the meeting, and let everyone know to be on time. Consider running your meeting from 10 past until 10 before the hour, so people have time to transition between meetings. Forty minutes of effective, focused dialog should get the job done.
  5. Capture key points of discussion, actions, and ownership. Send these notes out promptly after the meeting and follow up on them later.

A good meeting is a pleasure to attend. The conversation is focused, useful, and relevant, and attendees leave feeling prepared to take action.

Though it can be tempting to cut corners on meeting prep — especially for recurring meetings — taking time to plan, manage, and follow-up properly will produce a better experience for everyone involved.

Even if you’re not able to cut the number of meetings, you can certainly trim the length and boost the impact of the meetings you’re responsible for. 

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

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