Introduction to Better Meetings
How many meetings do you organise or attend a week?
Chances are, you don’t often question their relevance or contemplate their impact on your business expenses.
Surprisingly, a report published by the online scheduling platform Doodle last year shed some light on the staggering cost of unproductive meetings. In the UK, an astonishing 384,657 years of productivity are lost annually, amounting to a jaw-dropping £45.4 billion in expenses.
According to the survey’s findings, while most professionals partake in an average of three meetings per week, they consider nearly two-thirds of these meetings to be unnecessary. Furthermore, 44% of respondents acknowledged that these superfluous meetings hindered their job performance.
Gabriele Ottino, CEO of Doodle, offered insights into the study, stating, “We’re all familiar with the pain of tedious and pointless meetings. They occur daily, but the cumulative effect is nothing short of shocking. If your organisation isn’t actively seeking to enhance the efficiency of its meetings, you’re essentially squandering a significant amount of both money and time.”
Many organisations pay a hefty price due to a lax approach to scheduling and conducting meetings. Particularly concerning is the fact that a quarter of professionals find themselves engaged in five or more meetings every week.
The United States shares a similar narrative, with a staggering 11 million formal business meetings held daily, resulting in a $37 billion annual loss due to unnecessary meetings.
To put this into perspective, let’s consider a personal example from a previous role. I had to commute to a meeting in London twice a week. When factoring in the cost of my time, train travel, and parking fees at the station, the annual expenditure amounted to £44,300.
Given that there were typically around ten participants in these meetings, the combined annual cost for just these two weekly gatherings reached an astonishing £443,000. Keep in mind that this calculation doesn’t even include the time spent by participants preparing for the meetings or the expenses associated with the venue!
If you had to draft your annual budget and include a line item on your profit and loss statement detailing an expense of £443,000 per year for ten people attending two meetings each week, wouldn’t you be motivated to seek cost reductions?
Every well-organised meeting has the potential to add significant value to both you and your business.
Collaborating with others in a meeting can generate unique ideas that wouldn’t emerge in isolation. However, it’s essential to make meetings productive, and that requires discipline. Let’s take control of your meetings with my Top Tips for ending Meeting Misery.
1. Question the Necessity of the Meeting
What is the purpose of the meeting? Is it to share knowledge? Present data to make decisions? Make sure you define the meeting’s purpose and objectives.
Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if it’s truly needed.
Sometimes getting everyone in a room is the best and quickest way to get something done. On the other hand, working around diaries could cause a delay in moving a project forward so question whether a meeting is needed or whether a decision could be made quicker by setting up a call or sending an email.
2. Create and Share an Agenda in Advance
Sharing the agenda beforehand offers several benefits:
- It informs participants about the meeting’s purpose and gives the participants time to prepare.
- Helps everyone focus on the structure. eg who is leading on what agenda item and how much time they have
- Ensures that the agenda is well thought out and people can comment before the day.
If you’re struggling to find agenda items then you have to question whether the meeting is required.
3. Set Realistic Timing for Agenda Items
Cover 5 topics well rather than 10 badly because of time constraints
- Set realistic timings for agenda items to avoid running over or redoing topics at the next meeting because you ran out of time.
- Send pre-work materials in advance to facilitate meaningful discussions during the meeting.
I once was allotted 15 minutes to cover a subject that would take 45 minutes, so I sent out the material beforehand so we could just discuss the required decisions and actions.
Half the people read it, half didn’t. You can guess how well the slot went. Now I won’t try and cover a topic in a ridiculous time scale. If it’s good enough to be on the agenda then it’s good enough to do the topic justice.
4. Send Out Any Pre-meeting Materials
This makes a lot of sense but it can have it’s disadvantages as not everyone will read the prework which means you may have to cover it in the meeting.
Include the pre-work with the agenda and remind everyone nearer the time that the pre-reading or pre-work is a requirement.
5. Limit the Number of Attendees
I’ve been to meetings where the organiser wasn’t sure who needed to be there so invited a huge number of people just in case.
Meetings are less productive when there’s a large crowd. Research suggests 10 to 12 is the maximum you should invite. Let people know they can decline if they don’t think they will add any value.
6. Manage Technology for the Meetings
Get yourself or an attendee to the meeting early to ensure that necessary equipment and technology are ready before the meeting.
This includes testing remote connections and avoid last-minute technical hiccups and if people are dialling in make sure the bridge number is up and running.
7. Start Your Meetings Punctually
It’s annoying when people arrive late, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.
Begin the meeting on time to respect participants’ schedules. If people are persistently late to your meetings then have a quiet word.
8. Do Introductions at the Start of Meetings
Have you ever been in a meeting and not had a clue who some of the participants were or the department they represented? I have. It’s awkward, especially when, during the meeting, they ask you to email them!
If it’s your meeting don’t assume everyone knows each other. Start the meeting by conducting quick introductions.
9. Set Ground Rules
Establish ground rules such as
- Turning off phones and/or not taking calls during the meeting
- Refraining from doing emails during the meeting.
- Include breaks in the agenda for catching up on emails and calls.
If necessary add the ground rules at the top of the agenda, or mention it at the start to avoid an awkward conversation if it happens during the meeting.
10. Start the Meeting with a Clear Purpose
Begin with a summary of the meeting’s purpose, focusing on outcomes. I do this, even on calls by saying “Thanks everyone for joining. The purpose of today’s call/meeting is….”
This way everyone knows why they are there and it’s easier to remain on topic.
11. Create a Parking Lot
Use a whiteboard or digital tool to note ideas or discussions to revisit later. It’s important to capture important these points but it’s also important not to go down a rabbit hole.
When this happens try saying “Sorry this is all great discussion but we are at risk of running out of time. Let’s make a note of the idea/discussion and then can we go back to where we were discussing ..”
12. Assign and Follow Up on Actions
Assign actions as the meeting progresses but assign the action to a single owner, even if there are multiple people involved. Single ownership means you only have to coordinate with one person and increases the success rate of the action. Also
- Maintain an electronic record for easy distribution at the end of the meeting.
- Review previous actions in subsequent meetings to ensure progress.
13. Control the Meeting
This might sound obvious but not all meetings are controlled.
I have seen people who dominate the meeting and never shut up and I have seen others who don’t speak up at all.
All of these situations (and others) need to be controlled so…
- Manage discussions effectively, ensuring all participants have a chance to contribute.
- Control side conversations.
- Address individuals who dominate or disrupt the meeting politely.
14. End on Time
- Respect participants’ time by concluding the meeting as scheduled.
- Carry forward any unfinished business to the next meeting or follow-up.
In summary, the cost of unproductive meetings in the UK is staggering. By implementing these tips, you can make your meetings more efficient, cost-effective, and a valuable use of everyone’s time. Don’t let Meeting Misery drain your resources or hinder productivity.