Office calendars were bad before the pandemic; now they’re even worse. We’ve crunched the numbers. People told us they waste anywhere from 50% to 90% of their time each week in unessential meetings. We’ll wait while you run the costs. Eliminate the meeting “black hole” and adopt a meaningful meeting mindset.
3 steps to end meeting madness
1. Solve the right communication problem
We’ve previously discussed the importance of ongoing effective communication to solve communication issues in organizations. Develop a protocol for using synchronous and asynchronous tools for communication. Explain which communication tools to use for different purposes and set expectations for response times. If teams don’t have the right communication tools and practices in place, meetings become the default method of communicating.
2. Identify meaningful meetings
Define the purpose of your communication and only schedule meetings when other options won’t suffice. Nail down your desired outcome. What does success look like? Then, decide whether a meeting is the best option. An asynchronous communication or collaboration tool might be a better choice. Need to brainstorm? Start a Slack channel, set a due date for ideas, and use the information gathered to plan meaningful meetings and flesh out the rest together.
3. Prepare ahead of time
Meetings are usually planned with the best intentions: to communicate and see each other’s faces. Unfortunately, we attend too many meetings where our participation doesn’t seem necessary or we’re unable to reach the desired outcome. Below are meaningful meeting practices to make sure that once you’ve decided to meet, it’s a productive use of time.
- Identify responsibilities ahead of time
- Optimize meeting time
- Plan for follow-up
- Practice, practice, practice
Properly preparing for a meeting requires intentionality before, during, and after it ends. First, identify responsibilities ahead of time for everyone.
A meeting convener must:
- Identify the desired outcome.
- Invite only necessary participants based on outcome desired and purpose.
- Look at participants’ schedules before setting a time.
- Send an agenda with the invite. Include the meeting’s purpose and desired outcome. Make sure it’s in advance so participants can read it, ask questions, provide input, and/or prepare information. You may also need time to modify and resend.
- Assign roles: note taker, technology, timekeeper, etc. Rotate duties so no person is singled out repeatedly for the same task.
A meeting participant must:
- Decide if the meeting is worth attending and RSVP in advance. You are responsible for how you use your time—time that has a cost for your organization. If a meeting isn’t a smart idea, be a hero for the other invitees and tell the convener why.
- Read the agenda the day it’s sent (or ASAP). Ask clarifying questions, provide input, and prepare anything you’re responsible for sharing.
Second, optimize time together.
Ensure better decision-making:
- Describe and get participant agreement on the decision-making process, if they’re the ones making decisions. If not, identify the person responsible (and present) for making decisions.
- Detail what demonstratives (e.g. charts, sales figures, reports, etc.) are needed to reach a decision and who’s responsible for bringing it. Make sure participants have this material prior to the meeting so they have time to process the information.
The meeting convener must:
- Start and end the meeting on time.
- Respect people’s time by sticking to the agenda.
- Allow for socializing: open the meeting ten minutes early and leave it open if possible to let attendees hang out after the meeting ends.
- Arrive on time.
- Be present–don’t multitask.
- Help keep the meeting on track: focus on agenda items instead of other topics you want to discuss.
Third, before everyone dashes out of the meeting room, plan for follow-up.
Based on assigned roles prior to the meeting:
- Send meeting notes to participants and those who didn’t show.
- Document meeting notes in your project management platform.
- Highlight action items and the person responsible for each, including due dates.
- Reiterate the expectations around the communication tools to be used to communicate action items.
Finally, don’t let anyone fall back into mindless meeting habits—practice, practice, practice.
Everyone has responsibility and accountability for a meaningful meeting mindset. Mistakes will be made. Stick together and help each other get better at meeting mindfully.
Empower employees to determine the best time for synchronous versus asynchronous collaboration. Encourage people to say “no” to default meetings and suggest an alternative. Use in-office days to meet and bond with team members and colleagues—that’s what they are meant for.
Rethink and repair broken meeting culture through planning meaningful meetings. This protects employees’ deep work time while keeping social connections and projects alive. Get on the path to eliminating meeting madness and improving communication with our Workplace Assessment.