Updated: Apr 15, 2021
Ever been to a meeting and left it thinking it was a complete waste of time and energy?
Someone spent the whole time talking and everyone else was checked out.
We kept getting stuck on side tangents and never actually got to the topic at hand.
Everyone was actively discussing the topic, but no decisions or next steps were made.
We started planning the details of one aspect of the project and completely forgot about the big picture.
Meetings are arguably one of the most necessary and important team processes to move work forward, yet all too often they do the opposite, stalling work and taking up valuable time and resources. Since figures show workers can spend anywhere from 10-45% of their time in meetings, it's important they are meaningful and productive.
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There are a few important things every company can do to make their meetings more productive and increase employee engagement and satisfaction:
1. Clarify Purpose of Meeting
Clarifying a purpose sounds simple enough, but actually this step is frequently overlooked, particularly regarding recurring meetings. It's important to be clear about why you are calling the meeting, and to reflect on whether or not holding a meeting is the right process to use.
There are 8 main reasons we hold meetings:
Share Information | to distribute information across or between departments, answer questions, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Build Consensus | to make sure the team agrees and supports a course of action or new policy.
Surface Perspectives | to introduce an idea or update team and solicit feedback, ideas, or questions.
Build Trust | to specifically improve relationships among team members.
Solve Problems | to address challenges or obstacles regarding a particular project.
Address Conflict | to address conflict that has come up within team or among specific team members.
Make Decisions | to collaboratively brainstorm and determine possible courses of action.
Deliver Training | to teach a new skill or concept to team members.
Note that not all of these reasons necessarily require a live meeting. Information-sharing, for example, might be better done via email or app depending on the content. One way to determine if a live, in-person (or virtual) meeting is necessary is to think about why meetings are so helpful. They are useful primarily if you need to collaborate and learn from one another. If the purpose is to talk at people for an hour, then record a video and make them watch it at their own time. Instead, use meeting times for the application or reflection around the information.
Employees are much more likely to be engaged if they are able to contribute in a meaningful way. Use your meeting time wisely to ask for their expertise, to make decisions together, and to facilitate important discussions.
Remember that a psychologically safe workplace is one with more honest feedback.
2. Determine Participants
Another challenge to meeting's productiveness is having the right people in the room. Everyone in a meeting should have some clear reason for being there, some perspective that is necessary for the given topic. Think about participants without basing it on title or position, but rather on what they can contribute to the conversation or decision being made. This can help avoid pitfalls of "manager" meetings where departments are included just because all managers should be there.
Also, a meeting does not have to be an all-or-nothing attendance policy. If someone only needs to be in a small part of the meeting, invite them in just for that portion. Bring people in when it makes sense.
3. Streamline Meeting Processes
When there is consistency in your meeting structure (using the same agenda template, roles, format) people know what to expect and you aren't wasting time making sure everyone is comfortable and familiar with what you want from them. Build in habits of check-ins and debriefs to give people the opportunity to provide feedback without derailing the meeting schedule.
It's also helpful to establish the habit of pre-work to meetings. Instead of spending meetings re-orienting people to the task at hand, let them read some relevant information and know what the purpose of the meeting is ahead of time so you can dive into the work right away. This can be simple (just 15 min or so of prep), but it has tremendous impact on the productivity of meetings.
4. Use Appropriate Facilitation Techniques
Most managers are not actually trained in facilitation, despite it being a necessary skill in running meetings. However the difference between a highly productive meeting and one that falls apart is often in the facilitation, how the meeting is being run, rather than content, what the meeting is about.
Making sure all voices are heard requires changing the format of how you engage with people and being aware of the potential power dynamics at play in the room. If you just pose questions and ask for opinions, you will only get a certain number of perspectives. There are many collaborative decision-making techniques to help move work forward which we will discuss in another article, but in general varying the way you ask people to contribute (pair work, group work, writing anonymously, writing on sticky notes or flipcharts, etc) will help those less confident in speaking up in the larger group share their thoughts and ideas. You can also adapt some of the ways a producer keeps things equitable on video calls.
It's also important to think about how the room is set up and whether or not it is conducive for collaboration and communication. If you are in the front with others facing you, people are pre-conditioned to sit and listen. Sitting in clusters or circles inversely encourages discussion and more equal perspective-sharing.
The point is not that any one solution is ideal for every meeting, but to be intentional about how you plan and use your meeting time. Consider how your organization currently uses meetings and make a few adjustments.
As always, we strive to co-construct ideas and solutions together. While dialogue, alternative perspectives, and questions are encouraged, please note that extreme comments will be deleted as they do not foster collaborative communication. Instead, I would encourage you to message me directly through our website -- I am more than happy to continue conversations in person or over a phone call.