What is the key to having successful meetings?

Meetings take up a lot of the work-week. No wonder from time time you feel like they actually interrupting your work, instead of motivating and helping. Let’s make a simple math equation. Let’s assume that each one of us spends 4 hours per week on meetings (just 10% of our full work-time) and the company pays average hourly rate of 10€ with taxes, means that company with 25 employees spends 4500€ monthly on having meetings. This means people just discussing and actually doing nothing else.

Most likely we would want to get something in return for this investment. So how to make meetings more efficient. I was listening to an audiobook on this topic recently and would like to share some ideas that could improve the efficiency of meetings.

Keep meetings short

Meetings have a wonderful characteristic of taking up as much time as they are planned in the schedule. Have you been in the meeting where things are discussed and people just start talking about something not so relevant? Or they take detours and not getting to the point? So instead of planning an hour for a meeting, try to get things discussed with 30 minutes. 20 minutes is even better. And you will see the magic happening, that everything still gets discussed.

Not more than 7 persons

If you want to discuss something and get everyone’s input and attention do not have more than 7 persons participating. One would expect that the input each person gives value to the discussion but that is not the fact. People tend to start slacking and not paying attention if the group gets too big. A good example of this is a research that shows that if 3 persons are pushing something heavy, then everyone gives 85% of their max. If the group goes above 10 then every person puts in maybe 40% of their maximum effort. Most efficient meetings are between 3-7 persons. Then you get additional value of each participant while not losing their focus and effort at the same time.

The agenda needs to come from bottom up

Agendas are good but they do not decide if the meeting is considered a success by the participants. If the meeting agenda comes from the CEO people do not feel this as relevant to them. The agendas of best meetings come from the participants, so everyone has possibility to add topics relevant to them. And of course once they have submitted the topic the own it as well and feel that they need to make it work for the participants. If each week includes the “situation in sales” topic, then the sales team will stop preparing for the meeting but if they submit the topic, they will actually own it and want to present as good as possible.

Everybody’s input is valued?

This is the thing said before meetings. But the fact is that couple of people talking usually will spend 80% of the meetings time. Others have little time for giving their input and also some people do not want to interfere with the “big bosses”. To get maximum input from the team, a good thing that can be done is that everyone can scribble down their notes and ideas on the topics discussed. They will submit those notes after the meeting, so the ideas are not lost even if they were not discussed. From time to time best ideas might come from those notes.

Do not be late

Can you imagine how much time we lose because of being late. If one person is 5 minutes late, then we have lost 30 minutes, because other 6 people were waiting. Sometimes unusual starting times are good helpers for stopping people being late. If the weekly meeting starts at 16.32 instead of 16.30, this is something that catches everyone’s eye and makes people being late more likely. Not rounded number emphasizes the importance of every single minute much better.

Have fun

It is not a bad thing to drop in a joke or two. Not being too serious helps people to feel at ease and jokes are sometimes good reset for the brain if the mind starts getting bored and wandering around. This does not mean that the meeting has to be like a standup comedy show. Playing light music while people are gathering and dropping a joke in a meeting sets more playful and enjoyable mood.

Have everyone visible

If people do not see each other that is huge distractor. In large phone or audio meetings some people start doing their own things and lose the attention. This is again a reason why meetings might take longer for everyone or do not have the planned outcome. If you were not paying attention do you maybe ask the question that was answered on the next meeting? Or are you sure you will get things done that were discussed? The best is to have all participants in the same room, the best alternative, to this is to have everyone visible through video.

Altogether, meetings are not bad (mmmmkay). We need them as checkpoints where we are and what direction we are going. But to have each meeting as fruitful as possible is necessary if the company strives for excellency.

If you have any ideas and comments how we could be better in meetings comment the blogpost or drop me or Roman a line.

2 thoughts on “What is the key to having successful meetings?”

  1. In my mind – most important is missing – what is the purpose of the meeting

    And by the way, there might be several purposes. And if you look at them more in detail Ex: here https://www.getminute.com/purpose-of-meetings/ (It was the first I found from google, try others if this doesn’t look like your cup of tea) You might see that not all of your points above are relevant in each cases. On contrary, these might be even the opposite. So my opinion in this is – purpose first – then align others.

    Another point I want to make is about how to look at the meetings purpose in long and a short run. Many suggestions and tips are relevant and also easy to keep if we look at single meeting on single topic. Ex: “Desicion making meeting: What todo with SportID events”
    Things get more complex if you put them into longer perspective. Especially in case of recurring meetings like “Weekly’s” “Quarterly’s” etc.

    Yes in short run if you stick into one meeting you can check if single meeting was efficient and had a clear purpose. On the other hand, in long term it’s the tool for building a organizational culture and communication.
    (if you do not take my word, take this reference: https://www.inc.com/partners-in-leadership/4-practical-steps-to-manage-your-workplace-culture.html or this https://www.meeteor.com/post/meetings-organizational-culture)
    What I want to say is, sometimes it makes sense to skip some kind of meetings in “short term efficiency “metrics. But you might lose something in long term. Ex. general openness and cooperation in your company.

  2. The essay does not cover the purpose and that’s true. It just assumes that there is a purpose to meet and starts covering the topic from there.

    Agree with Mehis that meetings are not bad. Of course, companies need them for setting goals, tracking KPI-s, getting brainpower behind some complex issues etc. The question is just, do we spend the time as good as possible and do we get the results to fulfil the purpose of the meeting.

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