Part 1: The Meeting
We go to more than one each week. We often feel bored, agitated and resentful that our time is being wasted. We sometimes don’t feel heard, and frequently wonder if we were required to attend at all. We feel so many negative emotions and yet the meetings, never seem to end. How did we end up here?!
Some Stats to Break it Down
According to Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity;
- American professionals typically attend more than 60 meetings each month, and
- On average, 50% of the time spent in meetings is wasted
CBS News offers an even more alarming figure:
- During these meetings, 39% of people fall asleep.
The Mandarin states that for Australians, 70% of meetings were considered by those attending to be unproductive. This means that for a company with around 100 employees earning an average of $100,000, ‘the unproductive hours have a cost of $868,000 per year’. Moreover, the additional costs associated with unproductive meetings may include:
- The cost of materials, such as paper and electricity
- Catering costs, particularly for longer meetings that require lunch
- The time taken by employees to set up the meeting, such as writing an agenda, tracking attendance, locating a meeting room and setting up an appropriate time
- Room hire or facility costs
- The time taken preparing for the meeting, such as preparing reports, summaries and reports
- The cost of any trainers or guest speakers
- The loss of business while employees are away from their emails and phones, including the lost time that could be used to close a sale or finalise important work
- The cost of travel for attendees who live out of town, which may include per diem expenses and flights
Finally, there are also costs that while may not be directly linked to your bottom line, can have a significant impact on your company. These are:
- Feelings of frustration, resentment and boredom - more common than we’d like to believe
- Negative interactions between colleagues, passive aggressive discussions and in-fighting - which can have an impact on other projects and tasks
- The deterioration of communication - making it difficult to find consensus and make decisions
Meetings move at the speed of the slowest mind in the room.
- Dale Dauton
From an employee perspective, meetings often do more harm than good, with some of the common complaints being:
- There was little to no preparation done prior to the meeting, leading to a session of time wasting and confusion
- There was little to no preparation done prior to the meeting, meaning questions and concerns were raised and could not be easily addressed and answered
- There was no clear meeting chair, making discussion difficult and unproductive
- The conversation was dominated by someone, leading to a lack of diversity in voices
- Not all voices were recognised and heard
- The duration of the meeting was too long
- The meeting was boring
- The meeting was unnecessary
Inc. outlines seven key reasons why most meetings are a waste of money and time. These are:
1. There is a focus on information on the agenda
Rather than using words like ‘recap’ or ‘discuss’, language should be specific and to the point. Meetings should not be about information sharing - this should happen prior to the meeting.
2. They are timed poorly by using a default option
Most meetings are set up in default time periods, such as a half an hour or hour block, meaning that regardless of how long it takes for a decision to be made or for the meeting’s objective to be achieved, the meeting runs until the alloted time is up. Instead, a time frame should be determined in advance and the discussion should not take any longer.
3. Employees are late, and the meeting is delayed as a result
Typically some employees will arrive early to a meeting while others will be late, but the problem lies in allowing the general chats to continue on while the group waits for the late-comers to arrive. Meetings should always start on time, and the practice of being late should not be encouraged.
4. Attendees get away with ‘thinking out loud’
The place for thinking out loud is prior to the meeting starting, and meetings should be reserved for concrete ideas. The only exception to this is a brainstorming session or meeting dedicated to coming up with new ideas.
5. No accountability is established
Ownership over actions needs to be established at any effective meeting, otherwise responsibility becomes vague and all the good work done in identifying a problem and finding a solution is for nothing. Everyone needs to be clear on who is responsible for what, and when.
6. Lengthy recaps are standard
Recaps at the end of meetings, like most other things, should be concise, clear and should only include what needs to be done, who needs to do it and the time frame in which is needs to be completed. General discussion does not need to be included, as it takes up time and does not lead to clear results.
7. The goal of the meeting is to create ‘team cohesion’
While working together and building team cohesion is a vital part of any successful company, according to Inc., spending time together isn’t the best way to do so. By working towards a common goal and fulfilling expectations, actions and project requirements, we are able to achieve ‘productive relationships’ as opposed to ‘interpersonal relationships’.
Meetings are a symptom of a bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.
- Peter Drucker
So, why have meetings at all?
We’ve established all the ways the meetings we run fail us, but why do we still persist? When done well, meetings can set us up to do our best work, as well as:
- Enable us to build relationships with those within and outside our teams, that can lead to better teamwork and collaboration
- Give us the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss ideas freely, which in turns allows us to innovate and grow
- Allow us to get on the same page as our co-workers, leading to fewer misunderstandings and conflicting objectives
- Give us a chance to understand another perspective, and learn from others
- Enable us to make decisions cohesively and clearly
- Create an open forum for real and honest discussion
- Offer everyone the chance to have a face-to-face discussion, which has a range of benefits and advantages that simple email exchanges do not
- Give us the opportunity to read body language and nonverbal cues, another action that is difficult to do via written forms of communication
- Remind us that we are not alone, rather, we are part of a larger team, organisation and vision
Types of meetings
The longer the meeting, the less is accomplished.
- Tim Cook
There are many different types of meetings, with varying motivations, styles, requirements and appropriate time frames. As such, preparing for and running each one should involve specific actions, and not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some of the types of meetings you may have experienced are:
- A Work in Progress (WIP): a regular catch-up to discuss the status of projects, KPIs, issues, events and work related matters
- An ad hoc meeting: an unplanned, casual meeting to discuss something that requires current attention
- A kickoff meeting: the initial meeting to discuss a new project, with all the relevant teams and clients
- An AGM: an annual general meeting that is typically longer than other meetings
- A team building session: a collaborative, relationship building meeting
- An innovation meeting: a meeting designed to share ideas and brainstorm
- A one-on-one: a catch-up between two people to discuss various subjects
- A meetings via conference call or video: a meeting held via video or phone
- A working group: a group of people working towards a common goal or on a specific project, often considered experts in their field
It’s important to know which kind of meeting will best suit your purpose, but in order to do so, you’ll first need to determine what it is you’re trying to achieve. There are countless reasons to hold a meeting, with just a few being:
- To share information
- To catch-up
- To make an announcement: this could be to announce a change in company direction, staff changes or new projects
- To brainstorm, innovate and create
- To make a decision
- To set expectations
- To strategize
- To get buy-in from staff
- To motivate
Pro Tip: determine if a meeting is really necessary by asking yourself three simple questions:
- Is outside input essential?
- Is the only effective way to discuss the matter at hand through a face-to-face meeting?
- What would happen if there was no meeting?
If you discover that perhaps a large meeting is not necessary, consider alternatives such as sending an email, making a phone call, setting up a smaller, more informal catch-up, circulating a live, working document and requesting input from the team, or working into a Trello board or similar alternative.
Part 2: Preparation
Meetings are at the heart of an effective organization, and each meeting is an opportunity to clarify issues, set new directions, sharpen focus, create alignment, and move objectives forward.
- Paul Axtell
Top Ten Tips for a Punchy Meeting
1. Prepare an agenda
2. Manage the duration of the meeting by sticking to a strict schedule and starting on time
3. Manage the group by assigning a chair and asking for input on the agenda in advance to ensure all items are discussed and addressed
4. Initiate separate meetings for unrelated topics that come up, rather than derailing the meeting in progress
5. Create clear actions and assign them during the meeting
6. Avoid length presentations
7. Only discuss relevant topics
8. Don’t let one person dominate the discussion, and try to hear all the voices in the room
9. Test any technology you’re planning on using in advance
10. Don’t call a meeting unless absolutely necessary
And before calling your meeting, ask yourself three essential questions:
- What’s the point of the meeting?
- Who needs to be there?
- What needs to be discussed?
We’ve all sat through meetings where half the people involved were distracted, bored or asleep, and anybody who is paying attention is saying uninspired or unrelated things about topics you have no interest in. How can this familiar scene be avoided? Simple: get your team invested in the meeting. This can be achieved in several ways, but we suggest:
- Get the team involved by requesting their input and asking what they’d like included on the agenda
- Name the objective, goal and reason you’ve called the meeting in the invitation, to ensure everyone understands its purpose and why it’s important. This also gives people the chance to comment on the named objective, tweak it or suggest an alternate altogether
- Ask all attendees to come to the meeting prepared, with data, reports, comments and suggestions. Meetings are quicker and more effective if everyone involved knows what they want out of them, and there will be less chance of needing to set-up future meetings
Having an agenda is a crucial part to meetings outside of spontaneous catch-ups, brief status reports and types of one-on-ones. It keeps the meeting focused and on track, it enables all attendees the opportunity to speak and address any items they would like discussed, but most importantly, it should force all involved in setting up the meeting to clarify the objective of the meeting, and therefore, if the meeting is even necessary at all.
Once you’ve determined that your meeting will be a worthwhile use of everyone’s time (pressure!), you can start putting it together. There are many ways write an agenda, and the one that works best for you will depend on your company, the meeting objectives and a range of other factors. Nonetheless, here is a general template to follow:
Weekly Marketing Meeting
3 December, 2018
10:00am - 11:00am
Chair: Peta O’Nally
Scribe: Ben Starney
Attendees: Paul Ferguson, Aileen Lane, Kim Hawthorn, Gerry Smith, Tina Paulson and Michael Kilt
Apologies: Sarah Robertson and Nick Elms
Actions from previous meeting (optional): Update on budget
Item 1: Social Media update
Sub heading: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Sub heading: Reporting data
Item 2: Current campaigns
Sub heading: Campaign update
Sub heading: Future campaigns
Item 3: SEO update
Sub heading: Conflicts of interest
Sub heading: Christmas party
Minutes to be distributed by: 10 December, 2018
Next meeting: 15 January, 2019
Once you’ve determined who to invite - and be sure to invite only who is absolutely necessary - it’s time to start preparing. Whether you’re setting up the room, preparing a presentation or getting your notes in order, there are some important things to remember:
- Use resources to make your job easier, such as scheduling apps, project management tools, and shared documents
- Go in with an objective and work hard to achieve your set out goals. Even if you have to schedule future meetings to discuss ideas that come up, do your best to keep the current meeting on topic
- Stay focussed on the task at hand and try to avoid side conversations, unrelated chats and time wasting
- Prepare data for the meeting, so every statement made can be backed up. Waiting to validate facts will waste time, and may mean you’re unable to finalise decisions. Bringing data also shows the group you’re prepared, and will give you confidence and clarity during discussion
- Be on time, no matter what. Set a good example by respecting your time and everyone else’s
Speak up, but don’t dominate. Encourage everyone else to do the same, and curtail conversations that are unhelpful
And don’t forget the most important detail of all: PREPARE
Minutes are one of the most important parts of the meeting process, as they provide a written record of everything that was discussed, make clear who is accountable for what, remind everyone what was discussed and what their responsibilities are, and provide a single version of events. When writing your minutes, make sure you include:
- All participants who attended the meeting
- All agenda items discussed
- All actions and people responsible for each item
- Any documents that were used in or referred to during the meeting
- Any relevant next steps
Pro Tip: consider using a shared document to easily track changes and save time
The Importance of Feedback
Soliciting feedback is something almost everyone could do more often, and can provide valuable insight into how operations, relationships and processes are running. Asking for it after a meeting should be no exception. Consider sending out a short survey after your meeting and including the following questions:
- Was the meeting useful?
- Was the meeting too long?
- Did you feel heard?
- Did your issues get resolved, at least in part?
- Are your actions clear?
- How could our meetings be improved?
- Overall, how would you rate the meeting (1-10)?
Part 3: Preparation
The final consideration when planning, executing and nailing a meeting, is having the right space, technology and furniture to make bring it all together.
There are so many computers, laptops and projectors out there, but here are a few of our favourites:
The finishing touch to the best meetings is the office furniture on which they take place. A comfortable chair and a sturdy table might not seem like much, but can go a long way to making people last longer, feel less agitated and more patient, and enabling staff to easily communicate with each other.
Meeting Room Chairs
Meeting Room Tables
Meeting Room Accessories
White Boards and Presentation Boards
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11. Why Meetings Kill Productivity (and What to Do About It)
12. Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity
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