In many organizations, particularly post-pandemic, excessive meetings can impede productivity and hinder employee focus and efficiency. In fact, research has shown that since COVID, workers are attending three times as many meetings as they did before the pandemic, resulting in significantly less time for them to do their work. As a leader, you absolutely must be thinking about strategies to change your meeting culture and empower your team members to get back to completing their work. In this article, I will explore a variety of techniques to help leaders to address the issue of excessive meetings, enabling their teams to reclaim valuable time and enhance productivity.
Assess the Meeting Landscape
Start with assessing your current meeting culture and landscape:
Audit Meeting Effectiveness
You’ll want to begin by evaluating the purpose, frequency, and outcomes of current meetings to identify areas of improvement. Are all of the meetings you’re having truly necessary or would alternatives like emails, collaborative tools, or concise updates suffice? All too often today we’re seeing that people think that every conversation should be a meeting. That’s not the case.
Set Clear Objectives for Every Meeting
Every meeting should have a clear objective. What is the outcome of the meeting? If you need to make a decision about something, that’s your outcome. But if you’re holding a meeting to just check the status of current projects, it may be better left to an email. I tell leaders all the time, “You do not have to have check-in meetings.” Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t need meetings. Oftentimes meetings are an opportunity for your team to impress you and to connect to each other. These things have value. But generally, I encourage my clients to prioritize essential topics and to ensure that meetings are purposeful, focused, and aligned with the collective objectives of the team.
Embrace Efficient Meeting Practices
Implement Agenda Discipline
If you’re hosting a meeting, prepare and distribute a comprehensive agenda before every meeting. An agenda allows participants to come prepared, promotes focused discussions, and reduces the likelihood of unnecessary tangents. Additionally, if you’ve adopted the common, post-pandemic practice of inviting everyone and anyone to the meeting, an agenda will help leaders who are only tangentially related to the subject at hand to opt themselves out.
Optimize Meeting Duration
Research suggests that shorter meetings tend to be more productive. Set time limits for each agenda item, ensuring discussions stay on track and are time-efficient. If you get into the discussion and need more time, you can ask for everyone to agree to spend extra time; alternatively, if you don’t have enough time, then schedule a time for a more robust conversation on the specific topic that needs an expanded discussion. I’ve been known to assign a participant to act as a “timekeeper” to keep us on track. This person makes sure we’re not spending extra time on a topic and inadvertently causing the meeting to run long or to run out of time.
Foster Active Participation
Engage team members by empowering them to contribute and share insights during meetings. Create a safe and inclusive environment, where diverse perspectives are valued, fostering collaborative problem-solving. I also sometimes nominate a meeting participant to act as an “encourager,” who keeps tabs on how much each person is contributing and encourages those who haven’t spoken up to participate. That said, it’s important to respect that some people need a bit of time to “marinate” their thoughts. These cognitive and analytical folks have their own thinking style that necessitates taking a bit more time to consider their feedback. They might want to email their thoughts post-meeting.
Foster Productive Meeting Alternatives
Since everyone thinks differently, it may be helpful to encourage your team to embrace asynchronous communication. Consider leveraging collaborative platforms, such as project management tools or messaging apps, to facilitate efficient information sharing and reduce the need for synchronous meetings. Asynchronous meeting platforms also factor in your cognitive and analytical colleagues who benefit from having time to process their thoughts. Another strategy to avoid big and unnecessary meetings is to have regular individual check-ins with team members to address pressing issues and provide necessary guidance. This way, minor concerns can be addressed individually, rather than in a larger meeting setting.
Lead by Example
The change starts with you! As a leader, you’re the first line of defense against meeting creep. And I do recommend that you start by auditing your leadership meetings.
Streamline Leadership Meetings
Assess your own leadership meeting practices and lead by example. By demonstrating efficient meeting behaviors, you’ll inspire their team members to follow suit. Meeting culture comes from the top down. If a leader thinks that everyone should be at a meeting, then everyone will ultimately suffer from meeting fatigue, low productivity, and ultimately, frustration. By modeling good “meeting hygiene,” you’ll set the tone for a more efficient and productive meeting culture.
Communicate the Importance of Productivity
You want to articulate the value of focused work time to your team. By emphasizing the need for dedicated, uninterrupted periods, leaders can foster a culture that prioritizes productivity over excessive meetings. In short, if you have fewer meetings, more work will get done.
By implementing research-backed strategies, leaders can transform meeting culture, ensuring that their teams have sufficient time and space for focused work. Follow the recommendations I’ve outlined and you’ll create a more productive and engaged workforce. It’s really just that simple.