Did you know that employees spend around 18 hours a week in meetings? And according to a 2023 study, only 14% of meeting invites tend to be declined, even though employees would prefer to not attend 31% of them.
So what's going wrong - and why are we spending so much time in ineffective meetings?
It’s not just that frustrating, ineffective meetings are bad for business productivity, terrible for employee motivation and a disaster for wellbeing.
They’re also an expense that you and your employees could do without - gobbling up time that could be spent on more value-added activities.
Why is it so difficult to hold effective meetings?
No-one sets out to hold ineffective meetings. Most meeting owners have the very best intentions, for example:
A full range of employees are invited to meetings as a way of being democratic and ensuring good representation. However, the number of attendees means that the meeting is cramped and a few, especially vocal, attendees end up dominating the meeting.
Junior employees are brought along as a way of gaining valuable experience. But they don’t fully understand the discussions and quickly tune out.
Someone highlights an urgent/complex issue in the meeting which becomes the main focus for the meeting. Other matters on the agenda are crowded out and valuable discussion on these topics is delayed.
In an effort to cover everything on the agenda, the meeting is extended. Tired and hungry, attendees lose focus. They become distracted, wondering how late they’ll need to work to catch up - and productivity is already lost.
It doesn’t need to be like this.
Imagine if instead of being a source of frustration, you had effective meetings. The kind of meetings that gave you a competitive advantage.
What are the benefits of running effective meetings?
Instead of getting caught up in never-ending discussions that waste time, you and other senior leaders could be making decisions about things that make a real difference. And because they have more time ‘in’ their jobs, your employees will have time to work to the best of their abilities.
More effective meetings mean:
Effective meetings lead to faster, more effective decision making.
A strategic focus
Instead of covering old ground or discussing unnecessary implementation details, effective meetings ensure your business is delivering against its strategy.
Rather than sitting in meetings, your employees are able to work and deliver your strategy.
Better employee wellbeing
Rather than working late to make up for time spent in meetings, your employees work reasonable hours that support good health.
Improved employee satisfaction
Employees do the job they applied to do instead of spending time in endless meetings.
A stronger employee brand
Employees spread the word about your business, helping attract high quality talent that will help you grow your business.
7 ways to make your meetings more effective
1. Lead meetings with an eye on the time
Time is money. And as with expenditure, overspending needs to be kept in check. Your team will also appreciate the time you can give them back in your day for keeping to time (or finishing up a bit early - how efficient.)
For these reasons, it's good practice to instil good meeting habits into your SME. A few examples include:
Limiting contributions and interjections to 60 seconds. This helps stop vocal participants dominating your meetings and gives others an opportunity.
Start your meeting at the agreed start time. Latecomers will quickly get the message.
Actively discourage side conversations. The ‘one meeting at a time’ rule is more respectful and keeps everyone focused.
Keep to schedule - don't run over the allocated time. Meetings that overrun regularly mean there's a problem somewhere - whether it's lack of focus or direction, going off topic or including updates that perhaps could have been included in other ways, such as via email.
2. Give each meeting a purpose and clear agenda
Having a clear meeting purpose ensures everyone understands the expected output of the meeting. A clear, focused agenda, circulated in advance makes it easier to stay on track and be more efficient.
3. Encourage pre-reading
Meetings are often thrown into disarray by conversations about basic details. Creating an expectation that everyone arrives at meetings having completed pre-reading prevents meetings going off-track. Instead, everyone has a solid understanding of the situation at hand, and is ready to focus and discuss.
Attendees will need to allocate time to preparing for meetings, but this is likely to be less than the time that could otherwise be spent reviewing the information in a meeting. Templated information such as dashboards are an easy way to ensure everyone uses the same information.
4. Prioritise the agenda based on the biggest problems and opportunities
Instead of creating agendas based on custom (the way you’ve always done it), interest (everyone asks about this issue) or even who contributed what by when (first item emailed through is first discussed), prioritise subjects based on ‘the value at stake’.
This means that the biggest problems and opportunities are prioritised, helping you focus on matters which provide the biggest impact – whether that’s a new growth opportunity, a recruitment problem or challenges with a key supplier. Not only does this help sharpen everyone’s focus, but if items further down the agenda do get cut, they are less likely to result in missed growth.
5. Encourage positive energy and appreciation
Leading meetings with positivity and appreciation promotes creativity, a willingness to listen and a sense of constructiveness – all things essential for a good result. Emotional contagion – the way in which others ‘catch’ emotions from others – will affect your meeting in one way or another. In fact, bad moods are proven to be passed on more easily, all the more reason to begin each meeting intentionally, with appreciation for everyone who has chosen to attend.
6. End your meetings well
Starting meetings well isn’t enough. They must also finish well. To do this, provide clear take-aways and summarise who is doing what, and by when. Using a simple template to assign actions is an easy way to ensure visibility of who needs to do what. Something as simple as a table which details responsibility, action and target completion date is all that’s needed.
7. Hold regular meeting audits
Finally, be prepared to change the things that aren’t working. Regularly reviewing your meetings and being prepared to scrap those which are unpopular or unproductive gives you the opportunity to increase your business’s productivity. This should happen for both in-person and remote meetings. Likewise, question attendee lists. Reducing the number of people in a meeting will make that meeting more effective and leave more employees able to deliver their work with minimal interruption.
Saving time & boosting culture in your small business
Changing the way you lead your SME’s meetings can have a positive impact on productivity, decision making and employee wellbeing, creating a true competitive advantage.
The way in which you run and hold your meetings is a key element of your company culture. Learn more about building a positive company culture in our People First Culture Series.
Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler
An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter as of February 2023, Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With a passion for guiding readers to solutions for their HR woes, she enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: From employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.