14 min read

How much do you hate meetings?

dave barry meetings

The primary reason why there is such a passionate dislike of meetings is that they are not run effectively. Whether the purpose of having a meeting is misunderstood, or there is no progressive structure within it, a bad meeting can seem to stretch on forever.

When there’s no structure, it’s difficult for a meeting to create results. If no one understands the purpose of the meeting, everyone is wasting their time.

Maybe that’s why almost 40% of people find themselves falling asleep during a meeting.

Running an effective meeting does more than keep people awake. It is also critical to the productivity of your business.

“Professionals lose 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings,” writes Jeffrey Klubeck, MA for Wolf Management Consultants. “Approximately 11 million meetings occur in the U.S. each day. Most professionals attend over 60 meetings per month and almost 50% of this time is wasted.”

Knowing how to run an effective meeting keeps your people on-task. That maintains the productivity levels of your team.

Here are some ideas to help make sure more of your meetings are effective.

What Are the Habits of Effective Meetings?

Even if your meetings are just 5% more efficient, then you’re going to get more work done.

When you implement these habits, you’ll be able to make forward progress on this issue in your workplace.

Have a Written Agenda Distributed in Advance

The primary issue that makes a meeting ineffective is that everyone has their own agenda to present going into it. You can counter that issue by distributing talking points ahead of the meeting to keep people on point.

You’ll want to make sure there is research, background information, and other useful items for attendees to arrive informed.

To save some time, create a template for your written agenda, so you can fill in the blanks for each topic quickly.

Invite the Right People

If you have the wrong people in a meeting, then you have no way to maximize your effectiveness. You must have the key person, the decision maker, in the meeting at all times. Without this key person, you are prohibited from making forward progress on an issue.

Make sure that you invite the decision maker into the room. Then limit the number of people who attend the meeting to make it more effective. A meeting should have the goal to make decisions, then get some work done.

Far too often, a meeting is only used to share information, which is what makes it ineffective.

Keep to Your Schedule

A meeting should always stick to its schedule. Start and end your meeting according to the times shared to attendees. When people are working on a deadline, they tend to be more creative.

Encourage a habit in your business to arrive at a meeting about 5 minutes early to ensure it can start on time. Then manage the clock to ensure that your meeting ends on time too.

It may be helpful to have the person who is taking notes for the meeting to manage the clock for you to make sure everyone stays organized.



Park Ideas That Take People Off Topic

Conversation tangents quickly destroy the effectiveness of a meeting.

But if you simply tell someone to stop sharing an unrelated observation, they’ll often feel rejected. (And, furthermore, some ideas that aren’t appropriate for the current meeting are, nevertheless, valuable.)

That’s why parking ideas that are off topic is the best option.  When you park an idea, you write it down for future consideration.  Just make sure you’re able to follow-up with a parked idea after the meeting to ensure a good idea gets the attention it deserves.

It’s helpful to review the agenda items at the beginning of a meeting to limit the number of tangent conversations which occur.

Get On The Same Page Beforehand

Some meetings are held to make important decisions.

Before going into the meeting, try to have one-on-one conversations with everyone involved in the decision. Work toward getting onto the same page before the meeting.

That way, when the time for the meeting comes around, you can increase the chances of a successful outcome.

If you don’t have these pre-meeting conversations, they’ll happen within the context of the meeting. Should that occur, you may never make it to a point where your team will be able to make a decision.

Take Your Own Notes

You should have someone taking notes of a meeting for you. It’s also important for you to take your own notes.

The primary reason to have meeting notes is to record assignments, questions, or follow-up items which need to be addressed on a personal level.

By taking your own notes, you’ll be able to have multiple perspectives of the meeting to use as well.

Try using the agenda for the meeting as your guide for taking notes. Then work to focus the decisions being made on the key points of the agenda.


follow up

Schedule a Specific Follow-Up Time

If you don’t schedule time to follow-up on items after a meeting, then there is a good chance you won’t do it. For best results, try following up on meeting items the same day as the meeting if you can.

For those inevitable end-of-day meetings that happen, try to address follow-up items when you get to work the next day right away.

Then make a note of each item that requires follow-up to keep pursuing the issue until a resolution is finally achieved.

If you plan to have an effective meeting, then you’re more likely to have one. Instead of letting your meetings be unstructured, incorporate these habits to create a more successful experience for everyone involved.

How to Create an Effective Agenda for a Meeting

Preparation is what unlocks the effectiveness of a meeting. That means you must be able to create an effective agenda that can be distributed to others.

Even if you’re unable to get an agenda out to attendees before a meeting, creating one to follow at the meeting will make for a more effective use of your time.

The first component of an effective agenda is to have a list of topics that are going to be covered during the meeting. Try to seek out input from your team members when creating the agenda to ensure the meeting meets their needs.

sample meeting agenda

Organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz suggests the following:

Ask team members to suggest agenda items along with a reason why each item needs to be addressed in a team setting. If you ultimately decide not to include an item, be accountable – explain your reasoning to the team member who suggested it.

Then include a brief description of the objectives for the meeting. The goal here is to create an outline that leads you toward a specific end game. Create steps that will take your meeting to the destination you want it to have.

Then create a list of people who are attending the meeting. Most meetings benefit from having 8 or fewer people attending.

ineffective meetings

Michael Mankins, who is a partner with consulting firm Bain and Company, uses the “rule of 7” when scheduling a meeting.

Mankins believes that every participant over 7 in a meeting decreases the effectiveness of meeting by 10%. That means a meeting with 17 or more people in it creates a meeting that is 0% effective.

Then make a list of which attendees will be addressing the topics outlined in the agenda. No one likes the unpleasant surprise of a meeting presentation at the last second.

Include the time and location of the meeting with the agenda as well.

The best places to hold a meeting are not always a conference room at your business location. There are many great community locations to consider for a meeting that don’t cost much.

“Starbucks offers more than coffee,” writes home-based entrepreneur Pete Silver. “Those plush chairs are comfortable environments for talking business while sipping java.”

Silver also suggests bookstores, doughnut shops, and even McDonald’s since they offer free Wi-Fi at many of their locations.

As a final step, an agenda should also contain any background information that is necessary about the subject.

You must have informed attendees in order to create an effective meeting.


standing meeting

Have You Considered the Stand-Up Meeting?

If you’re sitting at a conference table for an hour, then expect attendees to get antsy. The human body was not designed to sit down for long periods of time.

Legs begin to ache with prolonged sitting. The lower back begins to hurt. That causes the neck to begin hurting. When people are uncomfortable, they are focused on how they feel instead of on the discussion happening in the meeting.

That’s why having a stand-up meeting can be a good thing. When people are standing on their feet, there are fewer pain points to experience.

Standing during a meeting also creates a sense of urgency.

Meetings that occur while standing take 34% less time to make a decision, without affecting the quality of the decision.

Eliminate Multitasking from the Meeting

“Are you a good multitasker?” was a common interview question throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Employers wanted to get people who could juggle multiple tasks without a decline in productivity.

The only problem with this trait is that just 2% of the population is actually good at multitasking. Everyone else likes to think that they can multitask.

That means 98% of the average workforce within every business is losing time when they are multitasking instead of being more productive.

The amount of time lost from attempts at multitasking can be enormous. According to the American Psychological Association, up to 40% of a worker’s productive time and up to 10 IQ points can be lost when they are asked to switch between tasks.

From a meeting perspective, that means up to 40% of your time is being used ineffectively.


Who's Got the Ball

Are You Ending Meetings with an Action Plan?

Even when the habits of effective meetings are included on a regular basis, the attendees can feel like they wasted their time when there is no call-to-action at its conclusion.

Every meeting should end with an action plan.

Unfortunately, many meetings end by mutual agreement, then everyone goes back to working on something else.

Let the last few minutes of your meeting involve a discussion about the next steps that need to be taken to implement the ideas you’ve just talked about.

Make sure this discussion includes who needs to be responsible for specific items that came out of the meeting. Reinforce the deadlines which are involved.

Then confirm with each person that they understand their personal responsibilities coming out of the meeting.

Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream, is reported by The New York Times as preferring to end her meetings by asking this question: “Who’s got the ball?”

You must be able to have a system that allows you to track the people who deliver results and those who do not. There must be confidence in the phrase, “I can get that done.”

How you implement this system depends on the environment in your business.

Steve Jobs handled this issue by creating a Directly Responsible Individual. This person was responsible for any follow-up work that was required. The appointment also created public accountability to make sure the work got done.

“Designing and leading better meetings will help make better use of everyone’s time,” writes author Paul Axtell. “But documenting commitments and managing the progress after the meeting is over will also help make future meetings more productive, or even unnecessary.”

Once you’ve created an action plan, Axtell recommends working to implement these ideas to make your meeting be as effective as possible over an extended time period.

  • Agree on the next steps which need to be taken, which allows for specific commitments to be created with enforceable deadlines.
  • Allow responsible individuals to negotiate their responsibilities to give them a chance to work things into their current schedule.
  • Create deadlines that are more effective than “before the next meeting.”
  • Be clear about the expectations that are included with every assignment commitment to avoid quality issues when the assignments are completed.
  • Having someone keep checking in on the distributed assignments to make sure everyone has access to the resources they need.

Having a Designated Follow-Up Person is Important

When exiting a meeting, an action plan creates numerous assignments which require follow-up. Each person with an assignment is going to feel like they’re a designated follow-up person.

In some ways, they are. You are asking them to deliver results, based on the discussions held within the context of the meeting.

If you have multiple assignments taking place, then you still need coordination to ensure everyone remains on the same page. That is why having a designated follow-up person is an important component of effective meetings.

Now you don’t need to follow the Steve Jobs model in your business to create this role. You, as the business owner, can even fill this role.

Here is why this role is necessary.

  • It adds clarity to the process. People will trust that the follow-up person is driving everyone toward a successful outcome. That eliminates the worries of everyone else who is attempting to complete their assignments.
  • It gives each person a specific contact point. Should something unexpected happen, or if someone requires new resources to complete their assignment, then the follow-up person can help coordinate the situation.
  • It ensures that important tasks are completed, even if everyone else does not assign the same level of importance to the project.
  • It brings expertise to the follow-up process. When there are numerous technical issues which must be solved, bringing in someone with specific expertise to coordinate the process keeps the ball rolling.

There are several different ways you can enhance coordination of the follow-up process outside of having a specific individual handling the process.

You can assign a team to coordinate the follow-up after a meeting, which is especially helpful in situations where multiple tasks must be completed on a short deadline.

You can hire an outside consultant to work with your people if you feel that there isn’t enough internal expertise to get the work done.

You could offshore certain tasks if you have concerns about the costs of completing assignments internally.

The point here is this: you need to do something. Meetings fail when there is no follow-up process initiated. They are ineffective if there is no coordination of the follow-up process.

Businesses which feel like meetings are ineffective usually have their after-meeting processes fit into one of these two categories.

What If My Meetings Are for Brainstorming Purposes?

We’ve discussed how to make meetings more effective when there are decisions which need to be made. Not every meeting requires a decision. Some meetings are designed for brainstorming sessions and pure creativity.

These meetings still need to follow the same structure. You must have a leader for the meeting to make it effective.

how google works

“A meeting between two groups of equals often doesn’t result in a good outcome because you end up compromising rather than making the best tough decisions,” write Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg in their book How Google Works.

Even in a creative meeting, there must be a designated individual who has the final word on things. Everyone in attendance must be aware of this role and respect it.

There must also be a clear purpose to the brainstorming session. Creative meetings tend to extend beyond their scheduled time because they lack structure, clarity, or purpose – if not all three.

When you call for a creative meeting to generate ideas, then you’ll still want to share an agenda for it in advance. Many attendees will start brainstorming ideas before the meeting, giving you a head start on the creative process if they know the ground rules before starting.

Then stick to the schedule.

Even if you have good ideas being generated, your people still have other responsibilities.

Do You Allow a Question and Answer Session for Meetings?

Do you have an open-door policy at your business? If so, how often do you actually make use of this policy?

“Open door policies, as commonly interpreted, fail to build the ability of the organization to solve problems close to where the problem occurs,” notes Susan Heathfield for The Balance Careers. “They encourage employees to bypass their immediate manager whenever they have a complaint or a problem to solve.”

This issue is seen in meetings as well. Instead of working with the organizer or their direct managers, attendees bypass the chain-of-command to discuss the issue with senior managers.

The most effective way to counter this issue is to offer a Q&A session within the agenda of each meeting. Don’t push it to the end of the meeting to make it part of the call-to-action.

Ask for follow-up questions on every agenda item instead. Make the Q&A session become part of the transition that occurs between topics.

You can include these sessions by asking a simple question like this: “Does anyone have a question or comment about what we’ve just discussed?”

By prompting attendees to ask questions when agenda items are fresh in their mind, they are able to interact with the information they’ve been given immediately.

That interaction makes it easier for them to retain the information presented.

Even if attendees are only listening to poke holes in a presentation, you benefit from their engagement.

That is why a Q&A session often creates a virtuous cycle where people feel important. When your teams feel like they matter, then you build high levels of enthusiasm within your team.


being present

How to Be More Present in Your Next Meeting

All of the ideas and structures which can be implemented to make a meeting more effective are worthless if you and your people are not actively present.

“There’s more to being present at meetings than simply showing up,” writes performance expert Craig Stephens. “Remember – it takes two to tango. Participants have as much responsibility as the organizer to drive positive outcomes.

Stephens suggest 5 rules for the workplace to help everyone be more present during a meeting.

  1. Don’t attend if you have nothing to add. Identify meetings where your role doesn’t add value to the meeting, then communicate this fact to the organizer. If you’re a decision-maker, however, you may still need to go to help everyone else make progress.
  2. Be prepared for the meeting by organizing your contribution ahead of time. Prepare questions you may have, or comments you’d like to make, before it is time to go to the meeting.
  3. Encourage others to offer feedback to the meeting. Something as simple as smiling more creates an environment where positive feedback is encouraged. Avoid offering negative feedback on comments or ideas unless it is absolutely necessary.
  4. Create a critiquing system where anonymous feedback about meetings can be contributed. Organizers and attendees tend to make meetings be more effective when there is a measure of accountability in place that everyone knows about.
  5. Arrive early whenever possible. Make sure your schedule permits you to stay for the entire meeting. If you cannot arrive on-time or stay, then ask the organizer to reschedule the meeting to make it more effective.

The length of a meeting is a key issue to consider.

For the average attendee, 52 minutes is the longest time period where they can stay engaged. If your meeting must go longer, then give attendees a 17-minute break to collect themselves.

The highest-performing people take that 17-minute break away from work responsibilities.

“During the 17 minutes of break, you’re completely removed from the work you’re doing – you’re entirely resting, not peeking at your email every 5 minutes or just quickly checking Facebook,” writes Julia Gifford for The Muse. “A person can’t be 100% productive all day.”

Another key issue that makes meetings ineffective is the presence of phones, computers, and tablets. These items may be necessary to take notes or provide a presentation. They also create temptations.

Personal phones offer social media notifications that distract attendees. Some employees may even be checking Facebook or Twitter while information is being passed along in the meeting.

If you find that electronic distractions are making your meetings ineffective, then consider using pen and paper only. Before taking this step, you may choose to ask that phones be kept on silent. Then remember to have the phones taken off of silent after the meeting is over.

make a donation

You could also take the approach of Keller-Williams Realty. If someone has their phone ring during a meeting, then they are required to make a donation to KW Cares, which is the charitable foundation for the company.

“When it happens, it supports our corporate non-profit,” said Darryl Frost, spokesman for the company. “it’s a win-win.”

At Tripping, which is a vacation rental search engine, a 30-minute stopwatch is set for a meeting. If the meeting goes longer, then the person who organized it throws $5 into a team jar for beer.

Just Fearless, a business development consulting firm, turns the meeting into a standing meeting if it goes longer than 30 minutes.

At Buddytruk, the last person who talks when a meeting runs over does 50 pushups.

At the end of the day, you can really get creative about improving your meetings.  And everybody will appreciate that.