Making our Meetings Matter

 ‘The bulk of my workday’, ‘A necessary evil’ or ‘When I write my grocery list’.

Whatever your relationship is to work meetings – you probably have quite a few of them and they’re probably not as effective as they could be.

Emma Vallin

Research from MIT Sloan* suggests that only around 50% of meeting time is effective, well used, and engaging — the number is even lower for remote meetings.

A study by Wolf Management Consultants** found that amongst professionals who meet frequently, 95% of meeting attendees miss parts of meetings while a whopping 73% carry out other work during meetings.

The author of Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni claims:

“Bad meetings not only exact a toll on the attendees as they suffer through them, but also cause real human anguish in the form of anger, lethargy, cynicism, and even in the form of lower self-esteem.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom, well-run meetings can result in better decision-making and increased innovation, collaboration, and resilience. Effective meetings can leave us feeling energized and productive, like we’ve really accomplished something.

So, what makes a meeting effective?

Fundamentally, it comes down to three things:

  1. Achieving the meeting’s objective.
  2. Taking up a minimum amount of time.
  3. Leaving participants feeling that a good process has been followed.

If you plan, prepare, execute, and follow-up your meetings around these basic criteria, you’re meetings will be a good use of time and help your organization reach its goals.

Of course we cannot control how all meetings are run but we can start by influencing the meeting etiquette at our workplace by role-modelling great meetings ourselves.

Here are a few tips to improve the quality of your meetings:

  1. Clarity – why you are meeting, who really needs to attend and how should everyone prepare?
  2. Challenge the length – Does the meeting really need to be 60 minutes? Often a shorter meeting makes us focus and stick to the priorities.
  3. Sharpen the agenda – Ban general updates and shape the agenda like a question that should be answered.
  4. Start and end on time – most of us agree it’s respectful to start and finish on time. But to ensure we have time to prepare for the next meeting schedule your meetings to finish at 25 minutes past or 5 minutes to the hour.
  5. Start the meeting well – They energy and attitude we start the meeting with will set the tone for the rest of the meeting. What’s known as the contagion effect. So start as you would like the meeting to continue.
  6. Ask for feedback – If we spend so many hours per week in meetings, why not get good at doing them. Ask for feedback on how you ran, prepared or participated in a meeting.

Involve your team in developing a great meeting culture

We know that great teamwork is developed by talking about it, practicing it and reflecting on it. So in your next team or board meeting, ask the question:

Are your meetings creating valuable new insights for the business or solving critical problems? Or are they a series of multitasking-filled project updates?

If it’s the latter, how can you adjust to make your meetings more productive? Try and then review and reflect together.

At the end of the day, it is our responsibility to spend our time on what matters most to ourselves, our teams and our organizations. Many of the clients I work with would benefit from asking the respectful question ‘Why are we meeting’ – a bit more often. And if the meeting is not a good use of our time, politely decline.

*Steven G. Rogelberg, Sloan MIT, 2020


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