More than half of U.S. employees feel that office meetings are unproductive. Learn the do's and don'ts of running a meeting in order to beat the odds.
Have you ever sat through a meeting that could have just been handled in an email? If so, you’re not alone. In a study conducted by data company Atlassian, it was discovered that the average employee attends around 62 meetings per month, and they consider half of them to be a waste of time!
The solution seems simple—just have fewer meetings! But if they can’t be avoided, having the tools to make your meeting worthwhile is essential.
Whether you meet in person or virtually, there are a few foolproof steps you can follow that will ensure your meetings stay on task and leave employees feeling reenergized! It all begins with breaking down some of the biggest barriers to workplace productivity.
What Makes a Meeting Unproductive?
The average American employee sites the following four reasons as their main barriers to productivity:
- Lack of engagement with the job
Non-coincidentally, these barriers align with some of the main reasons professionals often deem meetings unworthy of their time:
- 65% of senior managers said meetings keep them from completing their work
- 71% of them say meetings are unproductive and inefficient
- 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together
- 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking
With this information in mind, we can start to understand the anatomy of an unproductive meeting. So before you send the Google Calendar invite, as yourself these questions:
- Have I thought deeply and previously about the topic I want to meet about?
- Will I be discussing something that needs a third-party opinion?
- Is my project/topic stalled until I’m able to have this conversation?
- Is the only practical way to discuss this topic in a face-to-face setting?
- Can I schedule and prepare for this topic to be covered in a 15-45 minute window?
If you answered yes to them all, go ahead and schedule the meeting. If not, an email, phone call, or text message might be the solution for you.
6 Tips For More Productive Office Meetings
If you’ve worked through the five pre-meeting requirements, there are a few final ingredients you can bake into your meeting prep to make it worth everyone’s time.
Here are our 6 foolproof tips to running a knockout meeting.
1. Trim Your Attendee List
Including everyone in the conversation may seem like the right and polite thing to do. But that inclusion-based logic only serves the meeting organizer, it values your time over your employees and peers.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a two pizza rule when it comes to organizing meetings: if you need more than two pizzas to feed everyone in your meeting, the group is too big.
Too many people in the meeting often translates to too many opinions, more distractions, and thusly more wasted time. Plan to keep your meetings small including only the voices whose input you need to keep the project at hand moving.
2. Keep Your Meeting Short & Sweet
Research has led to a professional consensus that 22 minutes is the ideal length of an office meeting. This number was reached by investigating the attention-span of the average adult in the context of a work environment.
It may seem harsh, but keeping a militant adherence to your meeting time frame is essential. Even if that means cutting off pre-meeting chit chat rather abruptly. As a courtesy and display of strong leadership, you can preface your meeting by saying you plan to start on time out of respect for everyone’s time, and curb any tangents to ensure you all stay on task and end as quickly as possible.
3. Minimize Technology
If you’re meeting is face-to-face do you best to minimize the technology in the room. From personal devices like phones and laptops to large TV screens and projectors. While brilliant, technology is highly distracting. Its quirky malfunctions can also become unfortunate time sucks in an otherwise on-task meeting.
Instead, opt to have a designated note-taker who can record minutes (the old-fashioned way) and type them up to send after the meeting concludes.
Additionally, if you must-have technology, ensure you always arrive early to test it. If you’re having a virtual meeting be sure you do the same. There’s no penalty for showing up to a Zoom meeting before the official start!
4. Utilize Agendas
Agendas are a great way to keep everyone on task. However, they reach their full potential when they’re distributed before the meeting, at least 24 hours in advance. Agendas can be as detailed as a minute-based breakdown for discussions, or just provide a list of topics you will be covering as well as some pre-meeting information.
Think of your agenda in a problem-solution structure. Set an objective or goal that you wish to reach by the time the meeting is done. By focusing everyone on the end game you can motivate them to come prepared.
5. Assign Pre-Meeting Homework
Don’t be shy about taking your agenda and step further. Pre-meeting “homework” is a tool used by many to make sure that actual meeting time isn’t taken up by explaining why everyone is there in the first place. For example, if you’re setting a meeting to determine your quarterly sales goals, instruct each attendee to come to the meeting with at least 3 personal goals based on their numbers from last quarter.
Homework might have felt like a punishment in grade school, but to your employees it will help them feel informed and prepared should they be called on during your meeting.
If you do decide to “assign homework,” just make sure it’s formulated so your meeting can be spent discussing topics, not introducing them.
6. Always End With a Summary And Delegation of Roles
Misunderstandings are a demonstrated pain point for many workers. No matter how productive the conversation in your meeting was, if people leave feeling unsure about next steps it wasn’t truly successful.
It’s important to leave time at the end of every meeting to review what you’ve talked about and make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them going forward. The best way to ensure this is by asking outright.
It may be necessary to have everyone share what they plan to do next once they leave the room (or hang up the phone). Alternatively, you could have each meeting attendee email you with their next-steps once the meeting ends. This reduces instances of miscommunication and misunderstanding significantly. It also creates a spoken expectation that can enhance accountability and reduce tasks falling forgotten to the wayside.
As the meeting organizer be sure you’re checking in periodically with each attendee regarding their tasks. This will ensure they feel supported from start to finish!
Closing Thoughts on Meeting Productivity
Throwing a meeting on the calendar is a common business knee-jerk reaction. But the estimated salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses is nearly hitting the $37 billion mark. In addition to the average 56 interruptions the American worker experiences in a day, who knows how much time and energy is slipping through your fingers?
Thankfully, simply adjustments to your strategy like the changes we shared above can almost guarantee increased productivity.
Take the success seen by the Australian company Woodside for example. In a case study on productivity, the Woodside team evaluated their weekly meetings to determine if they were necessary, cut down their allowed times from 30 to 25 minutes, and set specific days when meetings were simply not allowed. Their results? Overall time in meetings was reduced by 20%!
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