Coffee. Meetings. More Meetings. A rushed lunch. A neglected, overflowing inbox. More coffee. Another meeting.
Does this sound familiar?
You’re not the only one. According to Atlassian, the average employee attends 62 meetings a month, half of which are considered to be a waste of time. That’s 31 hours a month spent wasted in unproductive meetings at work.
That’s almost an entire week every single month! And it’s only getting worse. We’re spending more and more time in meetings every year.
This frustration is why I love this quote from Dave Barry: “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”
The problem isn’t that meetings are inherently evil. In fact, they are an important and necessary tool for communication and collaboration. They are the place where colleagues, clients and stakeholders can learn, help, debate, collaborate and do amazing work together.
The reason that half of all meetings we attend are unproductive and inefficient is simple: there are no rules. For most people, not much thought goes into the meeting process. There are no strict standards or guidelines as to how they should be scheduled, prepared, conducted and acted upon. It’s no wonder we find most meetings to be a waste of our time. When there are no rules, no best practices to follow, it’s easy for even a well-intentioned meeting to fly off the rails.
To quantify the impact that meeting inefficiency has on a company and its employees, let’s calculate the time investment of just one unproductive meeting. A single, eight-person, hour-long meeting eats up eight hours of total work time. If the meeting leader comes unprepared, if there’s no clear purpose or objective or if there’s no specific action items or takeaway points by the end, that’s eight hours, an entire day, of potentially productive time gone. And that’s just one meeting.
Now, time isn’t the only cost of unproductive meetings. A poor meeting culture hurts employee loyalty, trust, collaboration and their overall productivity outside of meetings.
If you improve your meetings, you can immediately boost your team’s productivity and, over time, completely transform your company culture inside and outside of meetings.
When you follow the seven keys to better meetings below, you’ll attend and schedule fewer, more productive meetings, focused on objectives and outcomes, helping everyone be better at their job and get more done.
- Set the goals.
Before you invite others, set specific goals for your meeting. What specific goals or decisions would you like to achieve by the end of the meeting? Be clear, concise and use actionable language. Goals should not include weak language like “to discuss.” Use strong action verbs such as “to decide” and “to plan.” Setting strong, actionable goals is the foundation of holding an effective meeting. This step is crucial, so set aside a little time to do it well.
- Have an agenda.
You have your meeting goals. Now it’s time to write a meeting plan with agenda items that support those goals. A meeting plan includes answers to questions such as: How will we accomplish the goals for the meeting? What questions need to be asked? What information needs to be shared? Assign every agenda item to the one or more people who are positioned to help you answer those questions or have the information you need to come to a decision.
- Start on time.
Being diligent about starting on time is a tricky one because it can be uncomfortable to start a meeting if key people are missing. It’s important, though, because it sets the tone and expectations for every meeting you hold. When your meetings start on time no matter who is missing, you’re communicating to every attendee that you’re not playing around. It’s their responsibility to arrive on time, and it’s your responsibility to make the best of their time. The people you work with will respect you for that, and they’ll start to show up on time for your meetings.
- Stick to the agenda.
It’s your job to keep attendees focused on the discussion at hand. Don’t be shy and don’t be gentle about interrupting someone who’s going off topic and diverting the conversation. If you ignore the agenda, everyone else will too. You will lose credibility, and the attendees will lose focus, get frustrated, start daydreaming and stop participating. A real litmus test for this is if more than one person starts to check their phone, you know you’ve strayed from the agenda.
- Capture important information and action items.
Assign someone to take notes during the meeting. The purpose is not to transcribe the entire meeting but to get down key pieces of information that confirm what’s been discussed and decided upon after the meeting is finished. Good meeting notes include pieces of information that aren’t written down or otherwise available elsewhere, as well as questions raised, answers to questions raised, and specific tasks and deadlines.
- End on time.
Just as important as starting on time, end on time (or early!). Although it may seem like a smart move to keep the meeting going until everyone is ready to leave, not being strict about the stop time leads to inefficiency. When you assume that the meeting will go over, you reduce your incentive to begin the most important (and often the most difficult) agenda items first.
- Follow up with notes and action items.
Meeting notes along with what each attendee is required to do should be shared before the end of the day with all meeting participants. Again, these notes do not have to be everything discussed during the meeting. Just the essential items discussed, tasks that need to be done and decisions that still need to be made and next steps to come to a decision/action.
Improving meetings at work is not a small undertaking. It requires a cultural shift and new habits, but companies that implement these processes reap the rewards of increased productivity.
Do you have any tips for improving meetings? Share your ideas in the comments section below!