We’ve all experienced pointless meetings. You arrive on time only to wait for the meeting to start 10 minutes late. There wasn’t an agenda so you’re not really sure what you’re there for. You should have asked but you were too busy attending another meeting to check. It’s not clear who’s running the meeting as the loudest person seems to get all the air space. Several people in the meeting are multi-tasking or perhaps private messaging each other about why they’re there. They’re not really present though and are preoccupied by their phones and laptops which is distracting for the people who are contributing. You don’t say much because you feel unsure of what is expected from you. Nothing is really decided, and the meeting wraps up late. You’ve accumulated some actions that you won’t have time to complete because you’re off to another meeting that you’re already late for because this lousy meeting overran. You know you’ll have to complete your actions outside of working hours (again) because the rest of the working week is filled with more meetings.
Too many meetings and poorly organised meetings are not just a waste of your time, they can cause stress and frustration about your own work and tasks, as well as negative feelings about colleagues. They can also have a negative impact on moral, motivation and productivity across a whole organisation.
How many times have you felt in the flow with your work, and that you’re making great progress, perhaps you’re even ahead of time and then a meeting request gets put in the diary and interrupts your progress. The meeting wasn’t great, you weren’t sure why you had to be there, and it rumbled on for ages. After the meeting you feel less motivated. You’ve lost track of where you were and the momentum you had earlier is gone. You don’t feel as driven or as committed to finishing the task as you did before you attended the meeting.
Ineffective meetings are exhausting and can interrupt productivity. They can also create negative energy which can stay with employees after the meeting. Pointless meetings waste huge amounts of time, energy and money. *A survey of 6,500 people from the USA, UK, and Germany found that among the 19 million meetings that were observed, the ineffective meetings cost UK businesses an estimated £41 billion.
On the other hand, effective meetings are important. They inspire and drive people to do better. When well-managed, meetings can be an effective way to debate and discuss, collaborate and co-operate, motivate and inspire and accelerate progress.
If you’re tired of pointless meetings here’s 4 tips to help you save time and to make sure your meetings are positive and productive.
1. Be clear on the purpose of the meeting
If it’s your meeting, be really clear on what the meeting is for and make sure the people you invite know too. Set an agenda. Make sure attendees are clear on why they’re being invited and what’s expected of them. If you’re inviting them ‘for information only’ consider if their time would be better spent reading the information after the meeting rather than attending. And if you’re invited to a meeting and you’re not clear on the purpose and your role, then it’s your responsibility to ask the organiser.
‘You should never go to a meeting or make a telephone call without a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve.’ Steve Jobs
2. Only invite the people who need to be there
If you’re organising a meeting, really consider who you invite and what their role is. I’ve observed some organisations with a meeting culture which means that everyone gets invited to everything. This can be because of a lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities, and sometimes it’s caused by lack of confidence or fear of failure. Whatever the reason it’s a massive waste of time, energy and resource to invite more people than are required to a meeting.
3. Be ruthless about the meetings you attend
Research shows that managers spend at least 50% of their time in meetings and four hours a week preparing for status updates, not leaving much time to actually do the work. This has increased in the last year, according the Harvard Business School, employees have been attending more virtual meetings than in-person since we’ve been working remotely. Your time is precious, and it’s a finite resource. It’s your responsibility to use it wisely. Refer back to points 1 and 2 and if you’re unclear on your role in a meeting ask the organiser. If you are not required or there’s a more efficient way of getting the information, for example reading the meeting notes, politely ask the question about whether it’s the best use of your time to be there.
4. As a meeting participant, you have a responsibility
If you’ve ever been distracted in a meeting by the person arriving late, leaving early, getting on with their work or answering emails you’ll know how disruptive it can be. Often people attempt to get on with work because they resent being in the meeting or don’t understand why they need to be there. From now on I hope you’ll only be attending meetings that you need to be at, and you’ll understand your role. If you’re attending a meeting, as a participant, you have a responsibility to support the meeting organiser to help the meeting be successful. In addition to the basics like arriving on time and not multi-tasking, ask yourself during the meeting, ‘How can I help this meeting to work well?’ Your time and input are valuable, if you are attending a meeting make it count. Be present. Contribute.
Thank you to Hayley Watts for your expertise and inspiration for writing this blog. If you’re serious about fixing meetings get yourself a copy of Hayley’s latest book ‘How to Fix Meetings’ here.