47% of employees complained that meetings wasted their time the most at work and 45% felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attended.
Booqed, who led the study that brought those results in 2020, believes that “the problem sometimes might not be the time spent itself, but the inefficient use of that time.”
The following article compiles the best strategies to get rid of unproductive meetings and includes three great meeting agenda templates you can download for free and use today.
Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ll cover:
● How much money are you losing every time you host an ineffective meeting?
● How can you tell if you need a meeting in the first place?
● Who should be in the meeting?
● How do you maximize collective intelligence without falling into the trap of consensus and slow decision-making?
● Is there anything you should do differently now that most meetings are remote?
● How do you prepare for a meeting?
● What can you do to make sure meetings translate into action?
5 Ingredients for a Great Meeting
Meetings have a terrible reputation. With the simple suggestion of holding a meeting, people cringe, complain, and conjure up other obligations.
While efficiency is highly valued throughout the business culture, meetings seem to be the only area where waste is accepted.
Now that many meetings are being held online, additional elements can detract from meeting productivity. For example, the timezone and surroundings impact individual performance within meetings.
As technology has improved our ability to connect, we are calling even more meetings.
While the number of meetings has increased, productivity from meetings seems to have decreased. In the US alone, unnecessary meetings cost US businesses $37 billion per year.
We spend so much time in meetings that HBR developed an online Meeting Cost Calculator!
In addition to the actual time spent in meetings, there are opportunity costs and scheduling efforts which suggest that the costs of meetings are even higher than estimated.
Booqed's survey of meeting data points out that not only are meetings expensive, but most people do not get anything meaningful for their time.
Nearly half of all meeting goers believe that meetings are their biggest time-wasters at work. Almost half of the employees surveyed feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they are excepted to attend.
How can you and your organization avoid poorly managed, low engagement, purposeless meetings?
Thoughtful planning and some good collaboration tools can go a long way in meeting preparation.
A successful meeting has 5 key ingredients:
(1) it starts with a clear meeting objective,
(2) meeting participants interact with each other,
(3) the meeting leader keeps things moving,
(4) the meeting ends on time,
(5) with everybody on the same page and a clear action plan.
Your team can avoid wasting time by applying these five elements through a thoughtful approach before, during, and after meetings.
Below you will also find easily customizable agendas and checklists that work whether you're in a physical or virtual meeting room.
An Unnecessary Team Meeting is a Bad Meeting
But how can you tell if a meeting is necessary before you have it?
Surely that weekly meeting you've all been attending for the past 6 months holds some value, right?
Well, perhaps not.
One bold approach is to cancel all staff meetings outright!
Then, your team can re-assess if a particular regular meeting really was necessary.
For a less drastic approach, consider this every time you plan a new meeting:
- what am I hoping to achieve with this meeting?
- do I wish to share information or start a discussion or reach a decision?
- do I need to block out time with people for this?
- could I reach the same result without hosting a meeting?
- if a meeting is necessary, who do I need to involve in the discussion?
- does everyone need the same level of information at this time?
Check if you need a meeting
Meetings should not be used when you want to get kudos for your sales milestone or to announce policy changes.
Are you looking to do a presentation or share regular status updates?
In these cases, share information via email or newsletter.
Meetings should be used where there is a need to interact and exchange information.
If the team has to talk through issues and consider items together, then, a meeting should be called.
If you are still not sure, this chart will help you eliminate inessential meetings.
Who you gonna call?
No seriously, now that you have determined that an exchange of ideas is required in a meeting, try to pick the smallest number of attendees.
The smaller the number of people, the more efficiently they can exchange ideas.
Whose opinions, experience, and insights are going to be used to accomplish the meeting’s objective?
This question can guide your list of attendees.
If you use Holaspirit for example, it is easy to see group members within a circle to identify who needs to be on the call.
The software makes it easy to decide who should be invited to a meeting. Since groups are organized and tasks are clear, determining which members to invite becomes easier.
At the famously efficient Amazon corporation, meetings are purposefully kept small. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, coined the two-pizza rule for meetings because two pizzas should be enough to feed meeting attendees.
What will you do in the meeting?
Some executives won't attend a business meeting without an agenda. Once you’ve decided that a meeting is required, make a list of every agenda item.
Planning out agenda items helps highlight the purpose of the meeting to each participant and makes it easier to map out an action item for each agenda item at the end of the meeting (but more on that later).
Be sure to send the agenda to attendees a day or two in advance of the actual meeting so that each attendee is primed to contribute effectively when the time comes.
If you're not sure how to get started, the Holaspirit software offers a structured way to do that with customizable meeting templates that are optimized for efficiency.
Why a Meeting Facilitator is Key to Host an Effective Meeting
You have now gathered together a crew of busy individuals and have their attention.
How do you make the best of it?
Start on time, set the right environment, and use a good facilitator.
Most people have a lot of things on their plate and will start answering emails during the meeting if you don't capture their attention.
Here's how you keep them engaged.
Start (and end) meetings on time
Starting meetings promptly signals to the entire organization that you value everyone’s time.
The alternative is to punish punctual employees and train them to show up late next time.
To illustrate respect for the group's time, you should also end the meeting on time.
This simple rule sets expectations for good time management practices at work.
Go through the agenda items with an eye towards the time.
If you're pressed for time and there are less important items on the agenda, the meeting leader should acknowledge that and explain when and how these items will be dealt with at a later date, whether it's in a future meeting or through another communication channel.
Set the tone
As you have called on only the right people for a meeting, you are now activating their participation.
Make sure people feel relaxed by using an icebreaker, or a casual check-in.
Psychological safety and mindful listening are keys to make sure that people feel comfortable sharing ideas in the meeting.
Some avenues to explore in order to encourage thoughtful dialogue in a meeting:
- make it a habit to offer solutions, not just reactions
- consider and value all opinions, even those you instinctively disagree with at first
- include listening rounds where interruptions are not allowed
- propose a short one-minute meditation round so that everyone checks-in
Have a chairperson
Use a competent facilitator who can:
- clearly articulate the meeting expectation
- share and enforce the meeting rules if there are any
- set the tone for a good meeting where each group member is comfortable participating
- keep the discussions on topic to reach the meeting objective in the allotted time
A 1976 article in the Harvard Business Review highlights the many horrors of terrible meetings. The piece also offers sage advice that still stands true.
The HBR article provides actionable roles for good facilitators: know when to move on, jump in, and how to seek out opinions.
For example, the facilitator can call on junior employees if they are too shy to share without prompting.
Facilitators are key to the overall effectiveness of good meetings. Make sure you find a good one.
For remote meetings, in addition to the pointers above, consider the interaction and style of quiet members online. The dynamics of an online meeting are different. Be mindful of these differences to ensure you are engaging all of your attendees.
An Effective Meeting Doesn't End When it Ends
Your meeting went well. You worked through problems, everyone chimed in, your facilitator kept the flow going and you finished on time. Wow! Now, let’s make sure that all the loose ends are tied up.
Save a few minutes before the end of the meeting to make sure that the objectives for the meeting were reached.
This is a great way for the team to know that this was a productive meeting and their time was well spent.
If further discussion is required, be sure that your attendees know where and how to keep working towards incomplete agenda items.
This can be as simple as sending out meeting notes that link back to ongoing projects or incomplete checklists.
Every team operates a bit differently.
Taking time after a meeting to reflect on how the meeting went can be very helpful.
It can be as simple as sending a short survey to the attendees, asking:
- What worked well at this meeting?
- What can we do to improve our next meeting?
As an organization, you can analyze overall meeting productivity to make the most of your organization’s time at the end of the year.
Just as employees benefit from constructive feedback, your organization’s meeting process can evolve.
Your Toolbox: Three Effective Agenda Templates for Team Meetings
Meetings do not have to be miserable time wasters that you must eliminate. With a bit of strategic thinking, you can move meetings into your important and urgent Eisenhower box.
When meetings are run effectively, they can be a source of original ideas, progress, and even pleasant interactions.
Holaspirit’s built-in tools help create meeting success:
- identify team members that will benefit from the meeting based on your circle structure,
- choose among a variety of meeting templates that you have optimized to your needs,
- prepare discussion items to ensure the meeting is productive,
- automatically share meeting minutes.
If you're ready to learn by doing, consider signing up to start using Holaspirit for free.