How to Overcome Unproductive Meetings – Tips for Productive Meetings!

By David S. Chang

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Do you hate unproductive meetings? The purpose of a meeting is to discuss something face to face to get things done. Unfortunately, a third of the 11 million meetings in the U.S. taking place every day are unproductive, costing $37 billion a year! The average U.S. worker spends 31 hours in 62 unproductive meetings a month and consider half of them to be time wasted. Not only that, at least 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created daily for meetings! In this article I will talk about tips for productive meetings and how you can make them more effective! To start, here are some interesting statistics for the average meeting goer:

  • 91% daydreamed
  • 96% missed
  • 39% slept
  • 45% overwhelmed
  • 73% did other work
  • 47% believe meetings to be the number 1 time-waster

Here are some tips to overcome unproductive meetings!

  • Clarify the Why and Purpose. Be clear on why the meeting is taking place, what is expected of people, and what the meeting will be about. If not, a meeting can turn into an aimless social gathering with people wondering why they are there instead of a productive meeting.
  • Clarify the What and End-state. What is the goal for the meeting? Is it to solve a problem? Is it to make a decision or come up with an idea? Without a clear objective, it is easy to be distracted and waste time without accomplishing anything.
  • Clarify the Who and Attendees. Each person attending should have a role and be there for a reason. If meetings are too large, then only a few people may dominate without any input from others. In addition, there should be a designated decision-maker who is responsible for keeping the meeting productive and on track. One study showed that people have a tough time distinguishing from the topic experts and the loudest person in the room. To keep the meeting productive, clarify who is accountable to what topic instead of listening to someone loud that likes to talk and may not be right.
  • Clarify the How and Agenda. Each meeting should have an agenda so people know what to focus on and in what order. You want people to be prepared for meetings and have the slides, agenda, or meeting documents prior to the meeting to review. If people are prepared and on the same page, than the meeting will run quicker. Enforce meeting etiquette for everyone, such as not eating, checking your phone, and the top etiquette rule which is the next point.
  • Clarify the When and Start/End Time. 37% of meetings start late because people arrive late. This leads to people being disrespected, embarrassed, and frustrated, driving down performance. It is important to start on time and end on time. More importantly, keep the meeting as short as possible. Since a third of meetings are unproductive, have fewer and cut them out. Don’t aim for time, aim for the objective. If every item on the agenda is done in ten minutes for an hour-long meeting, end it there.
  • Clarify the Which and Action Steps. The meeting should end with which courses of action to take. Action steps help people understand what is next, who is responsible for what, and when it will be done. Send a roll-up of the meeting to all attendees recapping what was talked about and the action steps. This way there is no confusion and another meeting has to be set to clear up the confusion!

Many of us dread meetings and many times, the only time you see your boss or some coworkers is during these meetings. How you present and conduct yourself will have lasting impressions and can mean the difference between getting a promotion or not. Barbara Pachter, career coach and author of the book “The Essentials Of Business Etiquette,” gives us 10 rules you should know:

  1. Be on time. Make sure you come on time and prepare for the meeting ahead of time, says Pachter. You don’t want to waste anyone else’s time by not being punctual. “Leaders need to start on time so people can depend on that,” she tells us.
  2. Make introductions. If everyone doesn’t know one another in the meeting room, you need to make introductions. You should do this by starting with the person of the highest rank first, says Pachter. For example, “Ms. Greater Importance, I would like you to meet Mr. Lesser Importance.”
  3. Have a strong agenda. This is part of being prepared, but you should have a good, strong agenda so that you can stay on track. If you do get off track, you should have a strong facilitator to get you back on track, says Pachter.
  4. Sit appropriately. If it’s a sit-down meeting, you need to adjust your chair so that you’re at equal height with everyone else at the table. “Some people don’t adjust their chairs, so they end up being the little kid in the meeting,” says Pachter.
  5. Speak up. When people speak in meetings they need to speak loudly enough so that everyone hears what they’re saying. “Many men and women, especially women, do not speak loudly enough. And speaking softly is a subtle nonverbal action that can affect your professionalism,” says Pachter.
  6. Understand the unwritten speaking rules. It’s not polite to interrupt others, but in some meetings, you have to interrupt at some point or you won’t be heard. Understand the rules so that you can have a productive meeting.
  7. Do not have your phone out. A lot of people keep their phones on the table during meetings, says Pachter. Don’t do this. Even if you aren’t looking at your phone, it can get distracting if it starts lighting up or making noises. “Put it in your pocket, keep it on vibrate, and leave the room if you have to take the call or return a text,” says Pachter. “It’s really, really rude to be texting during a meeting.”
  8. You can drink coffee, but you need permission for anything else. If you’re going to eat, it needs to be OK with the entire group, says Pachter. “You can make noise or give off smells” that are disruptive, so it needs to be OK with everyone.
  9. Clean up after yourself. This is especially true if you were drinking or eating during the meeting. You need to clean up after yourself and leave things the way you found them, says Pachter. Otherwise, it’s not professional.
  10. Don’t save all your questions for the end. Ask your questions at the appropriate time. Do not be the person who starts “asking questions and adding stuff that doesn’t need to be added” when everyone’s getting ready to go, warns Pachter.

Here are some other tips to have effective meetings from some of the top companies in the US!

Google. When Larry Page retook the reins at Google, one of his first acts was to send a company wide email explaining how to run meetings more efficiently — like a hungry startup instead of a 30,000 person company. Here are some of the things he highlighted:

  • Every meeting must have one clear decision maker. If there’s no decision maker — or no decision to be made — the meeting shouldn’t happen.
  • No more than 10 people should attend.
  • Every person should give input, otherwise they shouldn’t be there.
  • No decision should ever wait for a meeting. If a meeting absolutely has to happen before a decision should be made, then the meeting should be scheduled immediately.

Apple. During the Steve Jobs era, Apple constantly worked to stay true to its startup roots while becoming the largest company in the world.

  • Every project component or task has a “DRI.” According to Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, Apple breeds accountability at meetings by having a Directly Responsible Individual whose name appears next to all of the agenda items they are responsible for. With every task tagged, there’s rarely any confusion about who should be getting what done.
  • Be prepared to challenge and be challenged. There are dozens of tales about Jobs’ ability to aggresively question his employees, sometimes moving them to tears. While you probably don’t need the waterworks at your office, everyone should be willing to defend their ideas and work from honest criticism. If a person has no ideas to defend, they shouldn’t be at the meeting.

Catalyst. Catalyst, a group of young Christian leaders in the South, places an emphasis on keeping meetings positive and loose. Some examples:

  • The answer is always “yes, and…” and never “no, but…” Keep things positive and ideas flowing by not shouting down initial proposals.
  • Take a break every 30 minutes. If your meeting must last longer than a half hour, make sure attendees can get up, walk out of the room and put their brain on pause.
  • Think and dream with out limitations. Those come later.

37Signals. If it were up to 37 Signals, there would be no meetings at all and discussion would be limited to IM and email. In the company’s best-selling book Rework, they urge creatives to remember that “every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.” In fact, the firm even created National Boycott a Meeting Day in 2011. But if you absolutely must meet, they have three rules:

  • Keep it short. No, shorter than that. And use a timer to enforce the time limit.
  • Have an agenda.
  • Invite as few people as possible.

Reily. This New Orleans-based food and beverage company was profiled in the book Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert Sutton. The company utilizes “stand up” meetings made popular for the Agile method of software development.

  • Schedule the meetings for the same time. Keeping employees in a rhythm allows them to not have their work unexpectedly disrupted.
  • The stand up is to communicate, not solve. If your team has a regularly planned stand up meeting, “lack of communication” is no longer an excuse for problems. Just be sure to protect the stand up meeting time by deferring larger discussions to private meetings.

Technically Media. The company meets only once a week to update one another on progress, propose new ideas and hammer out any problems. They keep to an extremely strict time table and meeting structure:

  • There is no judging in brainstorming. Focus on capturing ideas before filtering and critiquing them.
  • Bring solutions, not problems. Solutioning in the middle of a meeting wastes precious communication time. If you can’t bring proposed solutions to the table, save it for next time or bring it up in private conversations.
  • Review “homework” from the last meeting. Not only does it remind participants what happened last week, it holds attendees accountable.

What’s Your Approach?

How does your organization run its meetings?

Any unusual tips or suggestions you’d like to share?

David S. Chang

Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Wealth Manager and CEO | Chief Editor, Author, Keynote Speaker, Consultant ArtofThinkingSmart.com | Political Consultant | Army Officer National Guard | Living To Fulfill Needs, Solve Problems, and Live Passionately!

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