Meetings are a crucial element to almost any business, but they’re also one of the most universally disliked parts of the job.
In fact, 47 percent of employees think meetings are unproductive, and 76 percent say they aren’t even necessary. Unfortunately, this disdain counters management best practices of checking in regularly as a means to improve communication.
It’s possible that most employees are simply shooting the messenger — or in this case shooting the dial-in number. Meetings themselves aren’t bad, but so many people run them so poorly that the experience is tainted.
Follow the advice of these 16 experts to improve your meeting style and better engage your employees.
Understand Your Role as Meeting Leader
The success of a meeting falls on the person who called it. However, that person doesn’t always have to be the facilitator that keeps the team moving. In some cases, your implicit bias might mean inviting upper management or a peer from another department to lead the meeting for you.
“If your meeting is a daily standup, a weekly team check-in, or a similar kind of non-controversial status meeting, your bias probably doesn’t matter much,” Chris Higgins writes for Lucid Meetings.
“But let’s say you’re deciding a major strategy that affects the coming year of work. Or you’ve got an angry client and you’re trying to save the account. … In these cases, your leader bias prevents you from being an effective facilitator. When the stakes are high, trying to fill both roles is truly risky. If you face this situation, find somebody else to facilitate or be prepared to risk a bad outcome for the meeting.”
Along with finding a facilitator, the meeting manager needs to make sure everyone who should hear the information is invited. However, this requires a delicate balance between keeping the team informed and crowding the room.
“The scheduler, usually the boss, will often throw people onto the roster even if there’s only a small chance that the topic is relevant to them or that they’ll have something meaningful to contribute,” Anna Johansson writes for Entrepreneur. “This inflates the number of people attending, which is sometimes seen as a good thing — more minds means more opportunities to solve the problem at hand — but it’s actually quite damaging. Not only does it draw more employees away from work, it also muddles the focus and presents more opportunities for distraction.”
Various experts have different beliefs about ideal meeting sizes — Five? Seven? 10? — but all agree that you should agree on a cap to prevent overcrowding.
Finally, the meeting manager also needs to inform upper management and employees who missed the section about any resolutions and updates discussed.
“The leader has the additional responsibility of keeping senior managers involved and informed through effective communication and feedback,” Susan Heathfield writes for The Balance. “Building ownership from employees outside of the team or meeting, especially organization leaders, ensures that the team or meeting is successful at developing, implementing and integrating its solutions or ideas.”
Once you take ownership of your meetings and lead them responsibility, you can start cutting out the waste the frustrates attendees.
Create a Plan for Every Call, Chat or Session
Before you walk into a conference room or pick up the phone, you and your attendees should have a clear picture of what will be discussed during this meeting.
“Unless designated as a brainstorming or strategic session, actual meeting time should be used to report findings, make suggestions or answer questions,” says Linda Swindling, speaker and negotiation expert.
“A board member’s or leader’s time should be spent giving direction, deciding a course of action, discussing areas of concern and granting approval to proceed. Allow individuals, task forces and committees to do the heavy lifting and research so that meetings can stay high level.”
This means daily or weekly check-ins should follow the same format so your team can build a routine. One-off meetings should have an ad hoc list of items to cover.
“Make the meeting about helping your attendees leave better as a result of having invested their time with you and/ or the group,” says Sam Parker at Inspire Your People. “[Use this] helpful question to guide you: ‘What do I hope to have people doing and thinking about in the days/weeks/months following the meeting?'”
Some companies do this by assigning an employee to every task discussed during the process.
“Every project component or task has a ‘DRI,'” Sean Blanda writes for 99u. “Apple breeds accountability at meetings by having a Directly Responsible Individual whose name appears next to all of the agenda items they are responsible for. With every task tagged, there’s rarely any confusion about who should be getting what done.”
This DRI list can be applied before a meeting so employees prepare, and then adjusted for takeaways and assignments as people leave.
Change Up the Way You Run Meetings
Once you have the structure established and your employees know that your meetings will stay on track, you can start breaking the rules and become more flexible with the agenda.
“If you want people engaged, you have to be sure to include them,” says the team at Achievers. “Think about implementing different strategies to get people sharing ideas, collaborating and speaking with one another.
“To do this, try routinely hosting a round at different points in a meeting where participants can contribute, share opinions, and even voice complaints. Think about breaking people up into groups or partners, or even using ‘speed dating,’ where everyone switches partners quickly to bounce ideas off one another.”
This works especially well for longer presentations and brainstorming sessions. Different strategies also tap into multiple learning types, not just the auditory learners on your team.
“We all learn in different ways, so mix up the media and engage your audience through various senses,” Kristi Hedges writes for Forbes. “See how you can illustrate your points through photos, music, demos and videos. It can even be helpful to provide something tangible for your audience to hold in their hands. I once saw a speaker pass around a watch his grandfather had made to illustrate the diversity of entrepreneurship in our society.”
Remember, it’s OK to place agenda items on the back burner, either by moving them to a next meeting or stopping the discussion to cover more important factors.
“You do not need to resolve every problem on the agenda; simply begin the discussion and when you are a few minutes away from the allotted time, suggest that the areas which remain unresolved, or in contention, be revisited at the next meeting,” Kathy Stutzman writes for HubPages.
“This will only work if you intentionally place the issue in the parking lot and then place it as a priority at the next meeting and actually revisit the topic. Even if the topic is still contentious or time-consuming when you meet again, it needs to be revisited if you say it will be revisited.”
This serves two goals:
- It proves to your team that you won’t get bogged down by one issue,
- and it shows that you won’t let important issues get swept under the rug — thus instilling a sense of trust that you will run meetings effectively.
Identify and Talk With Toxic Attendees
If the meeting agenda isn’t the problem, then it’s possible the attendees are. We discussed one way to mitigate this earlier by limiting the number of people in the room or on the call, but you may need to address the issue with the group or individually if a few people are causing problems.
“Debbie and Donnie Downer show up to almost every community meeting, it seems, and meet every idea and proposal with a reason (or five) why it’ll never work,” Steve Holt writes for CityLab. “It’s not to say we shouldn’t speak up if we see a fatal flaw in the plan, or draw on our experience, but when certain attendees — or even facilitators — constantly question and sow negativity, the optimism for solving the problem is severely compromised.”
In addition to negative employees, managers also have to contend with employees who derail the conversation or get distracted easily.
“It’s frustrating when you and your team are trying to sort through the details of a tricky project, only to have someone derail the conversation by completely changing the subject,” says Rich Moy at The Muse. “Although you probably have good intentions and usually aren’t trying to bring up a new topic entirely, it’s a time waster, especially because the team now likely has two unresolved issues to get through in a limited amount of time.”
Often, these people have good intentions. They’re just not reading the room and understanding the flaws in their behavior.
“Most people who talk too much don’t realize they do it,” Donna Rosato writes for Time. “Whether it’s fueled by insecurity or overconfidence, however, this quality can be deadly to one’s career — especially these days.
“… If you can’t get to the point in a meeting, your boss may wonder about your ability to communicate with higher ups or clients. Prattling on in an interview could obscure the points that you’re trying to make, and hamper your chances at getting the job.”
Yes, it will be hard to talk with these team members about their meeting behavior. But if it is done in a constructive way, they could become better employees because of it.
Decide Whether Video Conferencing is Right for Your Team
In the digital realm, more companies are turning to video calls to replace traditional dial-in numbers, which has been met with mixed reviews from remote and telecommuting audiences.
“When you have a team spread around the country — or a team that just likes to work from home — video conferencing seems like a way to make people feel like they’re together in the same room,” says L.V. Anderson, associate editor at Slate.
“However, many people work from home because they don’t want to be in the same room as other people. One of the most appealing parts of working from home is slouching on the sofa in your pajamas with unkempt hair on days when you’re not up for making yourself presentable. Video conferencing forces you to make yourself, and your surroundings, presentable.”
While seeing your co-worker unkempt and reporting from their couch is unprofessional, video calls can also be downright disgusting.
“Sadly, 10% of people have reported seeing someone pick their nose during a meeting,” says the team at join.me. “No matter how discreet you think you’re being, keep in mind that your face is enlarged on someone’s screen. To be safe, just don’t touch your face at all.”
However, there are psychological benefits to facing your co-workers and seeing their pores up close, and you may decide that your team communication and understanding improves because of it.
“By consistently seeing your coworker’s expressions, you get more comfortable reading and understanding how their body language matches (or plays against!) their words and mood,” Anisha Singh writes for the GuideStar blog. “[Video calls] will be awkward at first. But it gets easier. With practice, video calls are such an advantage! You can see your coworker’s eyes, read their body language, and at the end of the day, you’re better able to communicate with the people you work with on a daily basis.”
At the very least, you can use video calls to make sure everyone stays alert and focused during the meeting.
“A lot of people use conference calls as found time to catch up on their email or RSS feeds,” says Michael Hyatt. “That might be the consequence of the organizer just not knowing how to run a meeting, but we’ve found that visual contact keeps everyone engaged, and that means meetings go quicker and more gets done.”
There are countless ways to make employees hate meetings. You can call them too often, keep them unstructured, and invite too many irrelevant people.
However, by keeping your meetings engaging and controlled, you can boost morale and improve the productivity of your team.