Have you ever wondered how much time you spend in meetings? As it turns out, most employees spend up to 30% of their work week in meetings, according to a recent survey conducted on 2,800 professionals. In addition, approximately 5% of respondents said they devote more than 20 hours to weekly staff meetings.
As a manager, you may think regular meetings drive productivity and keep employees accountable. After all, it’s an opportunity to share ideas, solve problems, and boost engagement in the workplace. Team meetings also allow for continuous feedback and help ensure everyone is on the same page.
These are all valid points, but things are not that simple.
Holding too many meetings can hurt productivity and team morale. About 67% of employees say frequent meetings prevent them from getting things done, wasting time and effort. Moreover, nearly 70% of meetings fail to achieve the desired outcome.
Harvard Business Review notes that excessive meetings can also affect employee happiness and well-being. This practice often leads to frustration, boredom, and disengagement, keeping your team from reaching its full potential. Over time, it can affect work-life balance, resulting in higher turnover and poor job satisfaction.
However, this doesn’t mean you should stop holding meetings. Instead, try to reduce their frequency and make every second count. The key is planning things, setting clear outcomes, and sending follow-up information to fill in the gaps.
Why Meetings Fail: Get the Facts Straight
In 2017, most executives spent around 23 hours a week in meetings, according to Harvard Business Review. And, if that wasn’t enough, the number of meetings increased by 13.5% during the pandemic. This practice is unproductive and can lead to fatigue, stress, and diminished work performance.
Some companies hold meetings for weekly check-ins, performance reviews, or strategic planning. Others do it just because they think it’s right.
For example, managers who don’t trust their teams will hold regular meetings to ensure things go as planned. Frequent meetings can also be a form of micromanagement, notes Forbes. As you would expect, this approach can affect employee morale, work motivation, engagement, and communication.
Many meetings lack a clear purpose. Some last longer than they should or appeal to the wrong people. As a manager, you want to make everyone feel included, but you should still give people an out. For example, your HR team may not be interested in a meeting about the company’s cybersecurity infrastructure or cloud migration goals.
There are also cases where employees arrive unprepared for the meeting. Sometimes, they lose interest in what’s happening because their input is ignored or overlooked. Distractions, off-topic conversations, and a lack of focus or direction only worsen things.
The same goes for virtual meetings. Employees who engage in frequent online interactions are more likely to experience “technostress” and fatigue. These factors can affect work quality, productivity, and mental health.
But even so, meetings are not a waste of time. On the contrary, they can spur innovation, solve problems, and improve teamwork if executed correctly. A well-thought-out meeting allows employees to share information, request and offer feedback, make collective decisions, and connect more personally.
With that in mind, here’s what you can do to make your meetings matter without sacrificing productivity.
1. Have a Clear Purpose
First things first, make sure your meetings are necessary and have a clear purpose. Perhaps there are other ways to convey your message, such as sending a memo or having a conference call. Learning how to write a good email could help you reduce the number of meetings and let your team focus on what’s most important.
For example, status update meetings are rarely necessary, said leadership coach Erin Baker in an interview with Slack. A better option is to email your team or use tools like Asana, Slack, or Trello to keep people in the loop.
If a meeting is necessary, define its purpose and determine what you will cover. Then, write down your ideas, highlight the key points, and set clear outcomes. Consider using a whiteboard, handouts, or slide decks to summarize your agenda and guide the conversation.
2. Keep Your Meetings Short
Business meetings account for 15% of an organization’s collective time. What’s more, CEOs and other top executives spend about half of their time in meetings.
Just because you have something important to say doesn’t mean you should drag it out. As a rule of thumb, keep your meetings short and productive.
Send any reports, sales plans, key findings, and other information to your team in advance so you don’t spend hours reviewing those details. If you plan to hold a brainstorming session, ask attendees to write their ideas before the meeting starts.
Go one step further and ask your employees to turn off their devices. In one survey, more than 90% of employees reported multitasking during work meetings, and nearly 50% admitted doing other stuff, such as reading the news or shopping online.
Also, address one topic at a time to keep the conversation focused. Most importantly, devise an agenda that outlines the meeting’s key points—and stick to it. Masis Staffing Solutions recommends using a timer to ensure your sessions don’t exceed one hour.
3. Focus on What’s Most Important First
Have you heard of the Pareto Principle? Also known as the 80/20 rule, this theory states that 20% of your actions will account for 80% of outcomes.
As a team leader, you can (and should) apply the 80/20 rules to office meetings. But, first, plan your agenda around your main points—which would likely account for about 20% of the meeting’s content, covering the most important subjects first.
With this approach, you’ll still be able to discuss what matters most, even if you run out of time.
4. Establish Ground Rules
Business meetings may fail because some attendees talk over each other, deviate from the topic, engage in conflict, or show up late.
One way to prevent these issues is to set ground rules for your team. Doing so can increase engagement, keep the attendees focused, and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Let’s see a few examples:
- Arrive on time and come prepared
- Keep an open mind and respect other points of view
- Be present, or be elsewhere
- Challenge the idea, not the person
- Express yourself clearly and stay on point
- Listen before speaking
Establish ground rules, and then ask your team members for feedback. Encourage them to provide additional input and make suggestions.
5. Implement No-Meeting Days
Daily meetings, no matter their duration, can be draining and stressful. Your staff members have more than enough on their plate. The last thing they want is to waste another hour discussing something that you could address through email or online channels.
A recent survey conducted on 75 companies in 50 countries tried to assess the impact of meeting-free days on employee performance. Organizations with three meeting-free days per week saw a 44% increase in engagement, a 73% increase in work productivity, and 65% higher job satisfaction.
This approach also decreased employee stress by 57% and improved communication by over 60%. In addition, companies with four meeting-free days saw an even greater increase in productivity.
Having fewer meetings allows employees to get more done, making them feel more autonomous. At the same time, it ensures a better work-life balance, reducing unnecessary stress.
To cut down on meetings, set up a Slack channel and touch base with your team every morning or at the end of the day. Ask them to reply within an hour and keep you in the loop.
6. Hold Meetings in the Afternoon
Many companies hold office meetings on Monday mornings to set goals for the week ahead. But, as it turns out, this practice can hurt productivity, according to Payscale. Your team members have more important things to do on a Monday morning than sit and listen to an hour-long speech.
Late meetings are not better either, as most people get tired as the day progresses. Plus, some employees have a long commute and just wait to go home.
Ideally, schedule your meetings around 2:30 PM on Tuesday, suggests Payscale. However, depending on the context, you may also hold lunchtime meetings to share project updates, make announcements, or thank your team for a job well done.
7. Get Everyone Involved
Employees want to feel heard and have their efforts acknowledged. For this reason, most people perform best in an inclusive environment, according to a Salesforce survey.
Managers can leverage meetings to foster two-way communication in the workplace. Think of it as an opportunity to make everyone feel included, share feedback, and drive engagement.
For example, you may ask for input and reward employees involved in the meeting, hold Q&A sessions, and follow up on unanswered questions. You can also create meeting agendas in Slack or Asana and encourage your team members to make suggestions or add new topics.
Get the Most Out of Your Meetings
Meetings are integral to work, allowing people to share ideas and solve problems together. However, that’s not a reason to hold staff meetings on most days and ask everyone to participate. This approach can kill productivity and affect team morale, leading to higher turnover and disengagement.
What you should do instead is cut down on meetings and make every second count. Set clear goals for each interaction, let your team members know what you want to achieve and send follow-up information. Then, start and finish on time, establish ground rules, and encourage everyone to contribute.
Most importantly, ditch unnecessary meetings and find smarter ways to share information. Leverage online tools like Trello, Vowel, and intranet software to keep the conversation flowing and build engagement. Lastly, be open to feedback and give your team the chance to speak up.