Often, a group of people carve out time in their work day for a meeting without any semblance of clear direction. In the pandemic era, this is especially annoying because remote work means we’re all a bit more scattered than usual, and videoconferencing, with all of its imperfections, only serves to compound the frustration of an aimless meeting.
There are ways to make sure your meetings stay on course, though, without stretching beyond your allocated time limits or confusing attendees as to what the actual point of the meeting was to begin with.
Why meetings lose their effectiveness
When done correctly, getting everyone in the same room (or on the same screen) breeds collaboration, but there are reasons why meetings rarely meet the mark—and chief among them is that there are simply too many meetings.
Workers often complain about the frequency of meetings, and for good reason. As the Harvard Business Review explained in 2017, the frequency of meetings has skyrocketed over the last 50 years:
Such complaints are supported by research showing that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.
As a way to mitigate the stress of meeting-overload, consider just having fewer of them. The sheer volume of daily meetings is staggering, cresting upwards of 55 million daily huddles in 2015.
Or, as a counter measure, consider taking your hour-long meetings into daily or bi-daily standup meetings. With everyone standing around their desks, it’s implied that you’re only going to gloss over the most important tasks at hand, lest you want responsibility for keeping everyone on their feet. Of course, the latter option comes with everyone in the same physical space, but it’s a viable option as we (hopefully) head back to our offices later this year.
When you do have meetings, have a goal in mind
If you’re a team leader, the easiest way to trim down a meeting’s length is to have an agenda. If there’s a clearly delineated plan, there’s less of a chance you’ll stray from the course. If necessary, outline the time limits of the meeting and stick to the schedule. Obviously, there’s nothing worse than a meandering conversation that drains everyone’s valuable time, so stick to a bulleted list and be mindful of the clock.
Setting the agenda or overall goal can be done in a number of ways, not limited to writing down a bulleted list in a document or outlining the meeting’s parameters in an email invite.
You all know the sight: A bunch of blinking faces, staring blankly into their screens with cameras muted, waiting for someone—anyone—to start talking. If you’re the team leader, take the initiative of letting everyone know that you’re grabbing the reigns. This means looking through the agenda and moving the conversation accordingly.
Identify the broader purpose
Of course, an agenda outlines the specific items you’d like to address, but what’s the goal of dragging everyone away from their work for an hour if not to make it easier or more productive down the line? If you’re running a meeting, there has to be a general sense of what you’re looking to accomplish. Is it to look into certain analytics to see what you can learn from data? Is it to get a sense of morale?
Every organization and team has different needs, but the overall tenor of your approach should mirror what’s outlined by the management consultant Amy Drader. She writes about the necessity of clear objectives in an article for her consulting firm Growth Partners Consulting:
A sound meeting objective will be action oriented, such as making a decision or solving a problem. It might sound like, “The purpose of this meeting is to discuss xyz issue and identify three possible solutions to be tested next week.” The meeting objective is clearly stated at the top of the meeting invite upon scheduling. This informs each participant what they should be prepared to do in that meeting.
Every group is going to have a different goal, but the means of achieving those goals should always follow a similar roadmap.