13 days per year. That’s how long one study found employees waste in unproductive meetings. 13 days of clock-watching. 13 days of nodding. 13 days of not-getting-to-the-point.
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.
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.
Effective meetings can transform business success
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:
Better decisions – 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.
Improved productivity – 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.
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. For this reason, it is 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.
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 meetings 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.
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 culture blog.
Author: Laura Sands
Laura is a writer who enjoys getting into the detail of subjects and sharing that knowledge with snappy, interesting content. When not typing away, she enjoys walks in the woods and curling up with a good book and mug of something hot.