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How to Make All Your Meetings More Effective & Less of a Time Suck

How to Make All Your Meetings More Effective & Less of a Time Suck

It seems in the era of covid we’re living in, zoom meetings have taken the regular office meeting and amplified it by ten times.

If the unnecessary and often overly long office meetings weren’t enough, people are now being beckoned every morning and every afternoon to take part in meetings that suck productivity and drop motivation.

After all, office meetings were bad enough pre-COVID. The loudest person in the room always talking over people, and an agenda that was so non-existent people wondered what they were actually meant to be discussing.

Now we have zoom fatigue well set in, virtual meetings have increased due to the ‘always-on attitude’ of people being at home. There’s almost no escaping them!

Meetings for Meetings Sake

Unfortunately, it seems that meetings are our default. We love a meeting in the world of business. Otherwise, how would any decisions be made? 

Many people would say that meetings help to keep transparency alive in their company culture. Which is true, some meeting forms can enable us to keep everyone in the know about current events and need to know information. But the trouble is, not enough people question the value of that meeting, or whether everyone in the meeting needs to be there. The ‘why’ of the meeting is never questioned. 

Poorly executed meetings not only disturb productivity, but they can also have dire consequences on team motivation. 

A recent study on the effects of a bad meeting revealed that the repercussions of a bad meeting can fester for hours as people complain about how poor the meeting was run, and how unproductive it felt. This has been dubbed “meeting recovery syndrome”. 

It’s a shame meetings have generated such a bad reputation, as when conducted effectively, they can bring together ideas and opinions, and allow people to carry out their roles in a more collaborative approach. 

The goal shouldn’t be to ban all meetings but to get better at them. 

Office Meeting Data That Should Scare You

Of the 23 hours that executives spend in meetings each week, on average eight of those hours are unproductive. Source TED

90% of people report daydreaming in meetings, and 73% admit that they use meeting time to do other work. 

75% of people surveyed have received no formal training in how to conduct meetings, or participate in them. Source The Economics of Bad Meetings. 

If this data doesn’t make you want to change your meetings perhaps this question will. 

Take the number of employees you usually have in your average meeting. 

Workout how much their hourly wage is, and add them all together for the hours they are sat in a meeting.

Now consider how much money and time you are spending on your meeting. 

Meetings cost money, and it’s time to consider the financial implications and realise the lost opportunity when your team could be working on more-important, inspiring or revenue-generating tasks. 

The Problem with Meetings

You can’t mention the word meeting without a slight grumble from people. Even if you can’t hear it out loud you can be certain there’s an internal monologue complaining about “how much time is this going to take”, or, “but I’ve got so much to get on with!”

Generally speaking, people don’t want to be part of your meeting unless they know it’s going to directly affect their role or them personally. So bear this in mind when you start declaring that your meetings are mandatory.

Below are just a handful of common complaints around meetings that will give you some idea of what to start avoiding when you get the itch to call one.

Irrelevant agenda (or no agenda at all)

An agenda is the basic step to any meeting, but is that agenda relevant and is the meeting even necessary?

When we’re setting up a meeting we can unconsciously be creating an agenda that only serves our personal interests, rather than building an agenda that genuinely supports everyone’s shared interests.

Meeting agendas are often biased to the person setting them up – which is most often a manager or leader within the organisation.

Too often, meetings are a chance for someone to exert their power or control over others, rather than build a collaborative environment that is working towards a common goal.

Too long (snoozathon)

Office meetings were long, but now it seems that we’re conducting virtual meetings they can almost go on for hours. Thanks, Zoom! 

Statistics show that the average meeting can last up to 61 minutes, and the worse part is that research has shown this figure has been climbing for the past 15 years. 

It may not be all our fault, as by default our calendars are set to schedule meetings in 60-minute time slots. So literally, by default when you go to your calendar and look to book a meeting it will automatically assign one hour. But you don’t need an hour to make decisions or find solutions. Be conscious of this when you next to book a meeting. How long do you really need?

Long meetings where one person is simply droning on about useless information is a huge disengager. No wonder people have claimed that they’ve been daydreaming, or playing on their phones during a meeting.  

Meeting too often

How often do you and your team realistically need to meet? And what do you need to have a meeting over?

Unfortunately through the coronavirus pandemic, many teams have had to meet more often as there is a severe lack of trust in their company culture.

Micro-management has bled into the virtual world, and now people are being demanded to attend meetings at the start of the day, before lunchtime and even twice in the afternoon. One after lunch, and one before the end of the day. Do we need four meetings in one day?

Meeting too often is a sign of distrust, and shows to your team that they have zero autonomy over the work they are doing.

Conversation dominance

In any meeting, there’s always the one that says the most, shouts the loudest, interrupts, and talks over people. It’s exhausting, and often completely unnecessary. This person may not even have a title or managerial status, but they like to be heard.

Conversation dominance is dangerous in meetings as it doesn’t allow everyone present to contribute effectively.

The quietest person in the room can have the best idea, but if they are never given the opportunity to contribute they are lost.

How to Turn Your Meetings Around (when you have to have them)

Meetings can be highly effective, but as we’ve seen they come with a myriad of issues that need to be ironed out for you to get the most of them, and to ensure your people are there with purpose.

No-one is ever trained on how to conduct a great meeting, and unless you’re distinctly aware of what a massive productivity blackhole they are, you’re never going to be conscious enough to change your ways.

Hopefully, from reading this feature you’re already inspired to take some action and make some changes.

If you’re in that camp then here’s how to drop the boring meetings and make them efficient, effective and purposeful.

Always have a clear agenda

It’s obvious, but setting out a clear agenda before any meeting is vital in ensuring that you are reflective about what the goal is for this meeting.

An agenda should also be distributed to the team before the meeting so they can be prepared and come with any ideas or solutions. This is often where most meetings go wrong, they never allow people that headspace before a meeting. Instead, it’s just expected that people are going to spark some magical ideas while in a room full of people.

When setting out your agenda, this is also a key time to consider what NEEDS to be on the agenda, and what could realistically be an email or a more informal notification to your team.

Make people feel present

There are many things before and after a meeting that may be taking our minds away. Either something which has happened before the meeting that doesn’t make us feel present or we’re thinking about something we need to do after the meeting. In both scenarios, we’re not fully present and ‘in the moment’.

Making people feel present in a meeting not only helps everyone get focussed but also helps to create more compassion around people’s behaviours and attitudes, as we become more aware of what others in our team may be going through.

Bringing compassion and empathy into the meeting space enables us all to connect better, and be more aware of the language we may be using.

There are various methods and techniques that have been adopted for meetings which can help people to get present.

One popular method is the Blob tree. The Blob tree comes in many forms, but predominantly it’s an illustration containing lots of blob people doing different things. Each person in the meeting identifies which person they feel like at the moment before the meeting agenda begins.

Another method that is adopted by those who practice self-management, is a more Holacractic meeting whereby everyone ‘checks in’ at the start of a meeting. In turn, everyone in the room has to say out loud how they are feeling and call out anything that may be currently distracting them.

Both of these techniques are becoming increasingly adopted by organisations who want to bring a more people-centred approach to their operations, and ensure that people are being considerate of team members.

Have a facilitator

It may sound unusual, but having someone who is a facilitator of the meeting can help keep the meeting flowing and avoid anyone steering it off course.

The role of a meeting facilitator is to keep everyone in check. Ideally, this person should not be linked to the agenda or the projects being discussed so they can be a neutral third party in the meeting.

The facilitator essentially helps to conduct the meeting, orchestrating it to so that everyone in the room has the opportunity to speak up, and that nobody interrupts or brings their ego into the room.

If you do look to choose this option to support your meetings, choose a facilitator who is confident and can keep people in check. You don’t want someone who feels they can’t ask someone to not interrupt. This person needs to be able to hold their ground and create a safe space for the meeting.

Take a self-managed approach

A self-managed organisational structure may not appeal to everyone, but if there’s one thing they seem to get right, it’s their approach to meetings.

In most self-managed organisations meetings are fast-paced, concise and only cover things that need to be covered.

If you take the Holacracy meeting types as an example, they have a Tactical meeting. Which is a once-weekly meeting where the only thing discussed is ongoing projects and tasks.

There is then a Governance meeting where the only things discussed are changes around the business or organisation itself, such as role changes, new culture incentives etc. This is a monthly meeting that allows the business to be more agile and spend time improving itself, rather than just constantly focussing on the work or output.

Make it a choice

As we revealed earlier, mandatory meetings are ineffective and can lead to a huge dip in team productivity. Especially when you’ve dragged in team members who just don’t need to be there.

By making it a choice you give people the opportunity to want to take part and provide them with some autonomy of the information they feel they need to know.

Ideally, to make this type of meeting most effective, you must detail out the agenda of this meeting before people submitting their attendance.

This helps for several reasons, but mostly it helps people to know whether this is a meeting they need to attend or want to attend and enables them to know if its something irrelevant.

Without publishing a prior agenda to your meeting you’re opening yourself up to a world of backlash when people get frustrated by the decisions they were not privy to or the information they missed.

You will notice that when you make it public what you are discussing people will either attend or not feel it necessary to.

Simon Chaplin from Greenstones Accountants made all of their internal meetings a choice, and he soon realised how much productivity improved. You should listen to how he explains his decision in our Make it Thrive Podcast where we interviewed Simon about the company culture he has created.

Meeting FOMO (fear of missing out)

The old ‘missed-a-meeting-moan’ is something many businesses struggle with. This is when people miss a meeting due to being on holiday, or off sick, and they feel a big sense of FOMO (fear of missing out).

When you have a big team, it’s easy for attendance to never be at 100%. Co-ordinating a big team to be in the same place at the same time is often a logistical nightmare for meetings.

Instead of trying to please everyone and constantly rescheduling. Set your meetings for the same time and day each week or each month, either people will be there or they won’t.

However, to support people in ensuring they can catchup you may look to record your meetings and host them on an internal intranet. This saves hours of note-taking, and enable people to listen or watch them in a time that suits them.

Improving Your Virtual Meetings

Team meetings, client meetings and even meetings with family and friends have all gone online since the outbreak of coronavirus. But Zoom fatigue is a real issue that we are now contending with as we try to remain connected.

Virtual meetings have kept the world spinning, and enabled us all to work remotely with ease. However, now that we are always home, and always online, it’s easier than ever to book in more virtual meetings, and get exhausted in the process. Just count, how many zoom meetings have you had in one day / one week? Is this even normal?

To help you to be more productive and enhance your meetings we’ve listed a few tips below that are specifically for virtual meetings. The above ideas on physical meetings are just as relevant here, so perhaps try to combine the two to truly ensure your meetings are effective and don’t leave you feeling drained or overwhelmed.

Keep them short

Virtual meetings take more energy from us than a traditional face-to-face meeting, as our minds are trying their hardest to pick up all the natural social cues. We would usually get lots of minor information from seeing someone’s body language, hearing tone of voice, and being in their presence.

Couple that with a tricky internet connection that makes people’s screen freeze, or mics cut out; and you’ve got one brain aching situation.

Our minds just can’t cope with this type of communication for long periods, so try your best to limit your virtual meetings to a maximum of 30 to 40 minutes. If it needs to be long, suggest doing the meeting in two stints so you have a short break in between.

Stand up

Our body language makes a big difference in how we feel and how we think. 

By sitting down, it’s easy to get comfortable, zone out and not feel as engaged in a virtual meeting. Before we know it we’re getting distracted by things around us, or daydreaming! 

Instead of sitting down for your virtual meeting, try standing up. You’ll instantly feel more engaged, more active, and more focussed. 

Standing up is also another nice little trick to help you push things forward as your body is in an active state.

Be on camera (if you can)

As mentioned above, us humans are social creatures, and we gain so many pieces of subtle communication from seeing someone’s face. If you can try to be on camera so that people can see your face. 

To avoid any self-criticism minimise your own camera so that you can focus on looking at other people’s faces in your team. You will be surprised how much this helps. 

Do they have to be on Zoom?

Have you ever asked yourself if it has to be a zoom or a virtual meeting?

What about the old-fashioned telephone call?

As we quickly dived into survival mode, everyone jumped onto zoom and other video conference platforms to ensure that communication and connection could continue. But few people considered whether this needed to be the method. How on earth did business get done before 2020!

To give yourself a break from the screen, consider if your meeting has to be done via video conference, and put out there the option of a traditional phone call.

The beauty of the old fashion phone call is that you can walk and talk. So get on the phone, go hands-free and why not take a walk at the same time.

The Future of Meetings

One thing is for certain; how we conduct our meetings, and their purpose will very much change after the experience of covid-19. 

Some recent surveys have even found that 58% of people prefer to communicate face to face at work. 

It seems that we may just have had about enough of digital communications, and while they have a place, they cannot replace the benefits and sentiment we gain from a physical face-to-face meeting. 

We have yet to see how augmented reality may impact our meetings, and how the increase in flexible working will adapt how we continue to communicate. 

Many of the ideas we have discussed in this feature are adaptable. So take note of what you like, think about what you need to reframe, and be open to the fact that either way, you’re going to have to adapt. 

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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.