Can Meetings Be Productive?

We've all been in meetings that drag on for hours and leave you more confused. One thing for sure is that meetings can be more productive. We've explored some ways you can make that happen!

Can Meetings Be Productive?

“My work meetings are always so productive and we’re glad it was hosted.”, said no employee ever.

All of us have been in bad meetings. Ones that drag on for hours where no one talks except the leader, or ones that leave you question the need for attending it or if it’s relevant to you at all. Some meetings are not only time-consuming, but it drains our energy and leaves us feeling lost instead of aligned with progress.

Surveys show that nine out of 10 workers admit to daydreaming while sitting in meetings, and 25% of the time is spent on irrelevant issues. - The Science of Productive Meetings.

One thing for sure is it can get better - your team can leave meetings feeling satisfied with the results and certain of what’s next. This can be done in 4 simple stages:

  1. Question the need of a physical or virtual meeting.
  2. Plan the meeting well.
  3. Discuss what’s next.
  4. Evaluate the outcome & improve.

Before all else, ask if it’s necessary to have that meeting at all.

Rogelberg, the author of The Science of Productive Meetings, says that many of our meeting activity is just habitual, and they are being repeated weekly or monthly at a particular time; No one questions if the topic to be discussed is necessary.

People don’t think critically about, “Hey, maybe this is not a particular topic that needs to be discussed in this meeting. Maybe what I can do is actually send out the information, and then when we meet at kind of a natural time, we designate five minutes to answer any questions about it.”  The Science of Productive Meetings.

The key is to recognize if a meeting is needed or it can be replaced by other alternatives. If you’re hosting a meeting just for your team to give each other updates, perhaps it can be replaced by writing your progress in your communication tool at a regular time everyday. If it’s a meeting with clients, ask at what stage is a physical meeting needed, and what stage can be replaced by sending emails or doing brief phone calls.

If a meeting is needed, plan for efficiency.

Meeting Purpose.

When you plan a meeting, it’s important to state a purpose. Instead of thinking of topics to discuss, think of questions you want answered. This way, the meeting is shifted from a general discussion to one more focused on delivering outcome.

Do: State the purpose of the meeting by raising up questions you want to be answered.
Don’t: Be vague about the meeting purpose & invite your team to a meeting with no expected outcome.

Meeting Agenda.

Once you have a clear idea of what the desired meeting outcome is, you can use it to design an agenda. First off, you need to decide how long the meeting should take. Define it in approximation - like between one to two hours, as discussion needs flexibility to allow ideas and dialogue to breathe. Then you can start listing down the points of the agenda, arranging by order of significance and relevancy, before finally assigning an approximate duration per point.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

The attendees’ energy is something you can amplify by design. The beginning and ending of the meeting are perhaps the most important moments. You may want to ease participants into the meeting by doing a quick check-in and restating the purpose of the meeting. This way, context is carefully set and it reminds people of how the aim and their role in the discussions. Then, the meeting content should be aligned to answering the questions needed. At the end of the meeting, it is worth to invite your team to share their learnings and output for the day.

It is also worth noting that the overall energy at the end of the meeting may affect the general mood of the team, if you're able to raise the energy, excitement and motivation as the meeting concludes then you're likely to produce better results on the corresponding action points.

Tips For Starting A Meeting:

  1. Team check-in: How has your week been? What were your highs and lows? What are you grateful for?
  2. One minute mindfulness: Facilitate a breathing exercise for one minute to foster calm and peace before starting the meeting.

An agenda is something to be followed. If your team is known to be late, then add a tardiness wait to the agenda. It’s important that as a meeting host, you start and end on time - the worst thing you can do is set an agenda that you don’t follow

Do's: Set an approximate duration for the meeting. Design agenda content to fit within the duration. Agenda content should focus on answering questions.
Don’t: Don’t rush the start - ease in with mini activities and remind attendees of purpose to set context. Unnecessarily delay start and end times - Don’t tolerate tardiness.

Attendees.

Have you been in a meeting that doesn’t have any relevance to you, or your role? This wastes your time, setting you back from other tasks that you could be progressing. This is why we must be logical with our meeting invites. E.g. If the topic is not marketing related, don't invite the marketing team.

However, in some occasions (and cultures), it may be disrespectful to disclude team members. To balance it out, be honest and open about the meeting content and therefore whom is core to attend. Invite those whose presence is required, and give options to others if they want to join, but be clear that it is at their own expense.

Do: Invite only those who have a stake at the meeting and give option to others if they want to join.
Don’t: Invite everyone to join if it’s not related to them.

Meeting Roles.

A meeting is more productive when members are assigned clear roles. Each role will depend on what the team places importance on.

The New York Times: How To Run Effective Meetings.

For example, one person can track time and ensure the agenda is followed and respected at a reasonable pace/timeframe. Another, can be an implementor whom is given the responsibility of noting down action steps and assigning people tasks. The host should ensure that the meeting goals are met and all questions have been answered.

Depending on how your team operates, decide who will get the final say on decisions. In most cases, it’s logically the boss - but assigning the leading experts in particular fields can be a sensible solution too, i.e. the graphic designer signs off the best submitted brand logo.

Do: Define clear meeting roles to ensure it goes as planned.
Don’t: Step over other people’s responsibilities in the meeting.

Sharing Responsibility.

The author of  The Science of Productive Meetings, Rogelberg, wrote about a concept called “Sharing Wealth”, which implies that there may be a couple of agenda items that can and should be facilitated by someone else. This gets your team more involved and it allows them to practice leading a meeting. It is not only an act of empowerment, but it prevents your team from viewing meetings purely as a soapbox for the manager.

Do: Let your team facilitate some parts of the agenda.
Don't: Make it all about you :)

Bonus: Leading an Ideation Meeting.

Before hosting a meeting, a leader should know what the meeting requires of their team - is it to get their ideas, or to tell them what to do?

If you need to tell your team what to do, then it is straightforward; Arrange the meeting, give people directions, and perhaps answer their questions occasionally.

But if you need people to give their input, more facilitation is needed. It is normal to have different types of people in every team meeting.

“There are three common dynamics in a large meeting:
1. A few people like to showboat and dominate the conversation, while others hang back.
2. Some people volunteer ideas, while others only offer criticism.
3. People are reluctant to offer opinions that go beyond their area of expertise or their rank within an organization.” - The New York Times: How To Run Effective Meeting.

Design an inclusive session. In an ideation meeting, you shouldn't leave the timid, or the introverts, in the background. They may have interesting ideas that have no chance to come to light due to their perhaps introverted personality. One way to can create an inclusive environment is to let people brainstorm individually on paper rather than speaking it out as a team. This way they have space to collect their thoughts and contribute them however they feel comfortable.

Create dynamics in the team. You can also create more dynamics in a group meeting by asking people to abandon their job titles and contribute freely. Some people may feel restricted to give ideas only within their area of expertise, but they may have valuable opinions to contribute as a whole, so your job is to expand their imaginations and stretch their thinking to a big picture perspective.

Let people speak. If this meeting is all about discussing ideas, everyone must be given an equal chance to speak. If you’re a leader, the best thing you can do in this type of meeting is to listen attentively and make sure not to share your thoughts too early. People often just agree with the boss if they've already shared their thoughts. Take the time to listen to others and digest all ideas without dismissing anyone outright.

“Your job as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning of the meeting. It’s your job to flush out all the facts, all the opinions, and at the end make a good decision, because you’ll get measured on whether you made a good decision, and not whether it was your idea from the beginning.” — David M. Cote, the executive chairman of Honeywell.

If there’s no action points, the meeting was probably pointless.

Every meeting should be ended by answering these three questions:

1. What actions should follow this meeting?

2. Who should be accountable for each action?

3.  Can we define a realistic timeline for these actions?

Define them thoroughly and never leave a meeting without them.

“Atlanta, a real estate operating company, uses a phrase to end meetings that has become a common acronym in office e-mails: W.W.D.W.B.W., which stands for “Who will do what by when?” We’ve trained ourselves and each other, but we’re also trying to do it with people we work with. We developed a system where before we hang up the phone with somebody, we’ll say, ‘When do you think I can have that?’ We track people who deliver and those who don’t.” - The New York Times: How To Run Effective Meeting.

After the meeting, take some time to evaluate the outcome.

Did you achieve the meeting's intended purpose? Were all questions and points addressed properly? How did your team feel after the meeting? Was the environment conducive to progressive outcomes?

When things go well, it’s important not to get complacent. By aiming to consistency improve, even by only 1% every meeting, we can make large long-term gains that'll fuel great progress. 🚀

1%.
Discover why big leaps forwards are actually thousands of small steps.

One Feedback Framework that works well is to define a 'Start, Stop, Continue'.

Gamestorming

You and your team can take about 5-10 minutes after every meeting to write what should be started in the next meeting, what to stop doing, and what is good and therefore should be continued. The meeting host should receive this input so that they can then improve the next meeting.

Conclusion.

Hosting an effective meeting is all about mindset.

As phrased by Rogelberg:

“To the extent that the leader recognizes that they are fundamentally a steward of others’ time — when they have that perspective, they lead their meeting differently. They think more carefully about who needs to be there. They think more carefully about what truly needs to be discussed and in how much time. When you have that mindset and you facilitate the meeting, you’re not just about featuring your own voice, but you are facilitating the experience so that it’s truly a valuable one.”  The Science of Productive Meetings.

Meetings don’t have to be boring and unproductive. We can turbocharge 🚀 meeting efficiency by:

  • Stating a meeting purpose (through answering needed questions),
  • Planning concise agendas and meeting structures,
  • Ensuring that big decisions get bigger time dedications, whereas reverse-able small decisions are handled quickly (if they are of low impact to the bigger picture),
  • Defining an action plan for after the meeting, i.e. how the outcomes will be implemented,

By remaining determined to increase meeting efficiency, even just one step at a time, we can improve our time management tenfold- and help the business grow effectively.