Imagine you just got a work email notifying you of a mandatory meeting later today. How do you feel? Focus not on what goes through your mind but what you feel in your gut. Is it pleasant and generally positive? Or is it distressing? Unsettling? Even irritating?
If you’ve spent any amount of time in a modern business organization, you can see where this is going. Depending on which study you trust, the average employee spends anywhere from 5.5 to 13 hours per week in meetings which they call “unproductive and wasteful” at least 50% of the time. As people become more senior, the problem increases: upper managers spend up to half of their working hours in meetings that they see as failures more than 67% of the time. No matter how high you climb, you never get away from the headache of bad meetings.
The ultimate cost of this problem is staggering: the annual salary cost for unnecessary meetings in the US alone is estimated at $37 billion. What’s more is that figure doesn’t include the cost of missed opportunities, poor decisions, and employee disengagement that occur as a result. If it wasn’t official already, now it is: meetings are a big problem. And like any other problem, the indispensable first step in solving it is understanding exactly what the problem is.
Listing all the ways meetings can fail would require its own dedicated article, but here are some of the most common ones we found:
- Too many of them– An excess of meetings was the most common complaint we found. Nearly 50% of employees see meetings as the biggest source of wasted time and over 60% worry about the work responsibilities they have to return to after the meeting.
- No agenda– Meetings that don’t have (and follow) a clear agenda fail in myriad ways: trouble getting started, poor time management, lack of focus, etc. A meeting without an agenda is almost guaranteed to run over schedule and lack the planning/thought necessary to succeed in its goals.
- No objective/purpose– Both previous issues can often be traced to this problem. If the members (let alone the leaders) of a meeting can’t clearly state the goal(s), it will be disorganized and likely to create more problems than it solves (i.e. more bad meetings).
- Communication issues– This is a big one and can detract from meetings that are otherwise well done: some personalities dominate while others stay silent, everybody talks at once and nobody listens, topics get heated and disagreements get personal, disruptions, etc.
- No clear results– A surprising number of meetings fail to record, track, or share their results or conclusions. This is a huge factor in not only the meeting’s value but also in the perceived success of its participants and contributes to the prevailing feelings of meetings’ wastefulness.
Now that we’ve focused on the big picture things that are wrong with meetings, let’s look at what makes for good meetings:
- Clear objective/purpose– Meetings should begin with the intention of solving a specific problem(s) that can’t be solved without one (i.e. NOT sharing information). Starting with the end in mind will naturally structure the meeting to meet its goals and help avoid unnecessary or unproductive meetings.
- Intentional guest list– Meetings should aim to include the minimum number of people needed to meet their goal(s) while bringing sufficiently diverse perspectives and expertise. This makes for more effective meetings and reduces the time employees waste in meetings they can’t add to.
- Strong agenda– Meetings should always start with a set agenda and an expected time frame for each item. This can be modified as necessary but there must be a plan going in. Ideally, the agenda should be shared with members prior to the meeting so any questions or suggestions can be addressed in advance.
- Roles and rules– Meetings should designate (at least) two specific roles: 1) a facilitator to lead the discussion, control dominating individuals, and arbitrate any disagreements; 2) a note-taker to keep track of the discussion and summarize the key takeaways after the meeting. If any more roles are necessary for your meeting’s purposes/plans, assign them in advance and be specific in their responsibilities. Furthermore, there should be rules guiding people’s participation and communication.
- Shared results– The note-taker should create and distribute a recap of the meeting’s highlights shortly thereafter. The summary should connect the meeting’s results/outcomes with its goals/purpose, mention any new ideas or topics that came up but were not discussed, and (if applicable) list any key points for next steps/moving forward.
At BigTeam, we think about meetings differently: we see meetings as the ultimate opportunity to supercharge your team members with the spirit of collaboration. That’s why we give you pre-designed surveys to take you through each step of the meeting process in the most efficient way possible. With our proprietary techniques and technology, you distill the most important benefits of meetings while minimizing the negative parts that have come to define them.
Pre-Meeting – Consult with your managers and/or team members about a meeting topic before planning.
We give you the questions you need to ask to make an informed decision about whether a meeting is justified and, if so, what the meeting should include. Stop wasting time planning and attending meetings on topics you think your team needs and watch all of the meetings you actually need come to life.
Agenda – Share your meeting agenda with the attendees and get their feedback in advance.
By sharing your plans for each meeting beforehand, you simultaneously inform/prepare your team and get insights into what issues you need to focus on during the meeting. Get everyone’s thoughts in advance and skip straight to the important points of discussion and debate that usually take half an hour and two cups of coffee to get to.
Rules & Roles– Set and share the ground rules for your meeting and assign key roles or field suggestions as you develop them.
Keep your meetings fair and consistent by informing your team of the formal procedures by which you will organize and operate your meeting and communications. Create and assign the roles your meetings require. You can also solicit feedback on your current system and/or ideas about new policies that will work best for your team. We give you the option to do either or both.
Results – Follow up with the key takeaways and get your employees’ feedback and ideas.
By promptly following up each meeting with an overview, highlights, and next steps, you specify and reinforce the actual value of the meeting to your team and create progress reports that you can track throughout the course of a project or period. This part also gives people the chance to add any new ideas or thoughts that come up in the wake of the meeting.
Bonus: Try a Silent Meeting or our alternative to it.
These are just a few of the ways our surveys can help you take your meetings to the next level. If your team meetings don’t quite fit with our current offerings and you need something a little bit different, let us know and we will work with you to come up with something just for you. We do that because we know how much you will benefit from better meetings and that once you join, you will be members for life. If you’re ready to learn more about how BigTeam can help you and your team reach your potential, contact us today.
You can also check out our guide to Agile feedback here.