How to Hold Better Meetings
When you see a meeting request pop up on your phone, how does it make you feel? Do you jump for joy at the chance to talk with your teammates? Or do you recoil, overcome by a wave of existential dread?
If you’re like the majority of people, your reaction is probably closer to the second than the first. Though human beings have evolved to thrive on social interaction, most of us hate meetings- to such an extent that it’s become a societal trope worthy of countless Sunday morning comics and water cooler joke punchlines.
In a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, senior managers from a number of different industries were asked to share their opinions on their company’s meeting practices:
- 71% described meetings as “unproductive and inefficient”
- 65% said that meetings took time away from their own work
- 64% said that meetings steal time from “deep thinking”
- 62% felt that meetings do not bring teams closer together
This is especially interesting when we consider the sheer amount of time we spend attending meetings. In the 1960’s, executives spent less than 10 hours a week in meetings. Today, it’s closer to 23 hours a week. It begs the question: Is there a way to turn the trend around, and make meetings more meaningful? Or are we destined to keep repeating history, writing meetings off as a “necessary evil”?
Why We Hate Meetings
The first step to conducting better meetings is determining what makes us dislike them so much in the first place. While every company has its own individual details, when large groups are polled, many similarities begin to emerge. Recent research has shown that the top complaints about meetings are:
Time management (66%)
You’ve taken time away from other projects to attend the meeting, but it begins late or runs longer than the scheduled time.
The meeting was unnecessary and could have been handled over email.
You show up with your “A game” but the others are checking their phones or otherwise checked out.
Lack of Respect (55%)
Rather than listening intently and giving everyone time to voice their opinions, a couple of key characters keep interrupting the group to share theirs.
Lack of Focus (49%)
Though an agenda has been created, the meeting veers off course to touch on subjects that are irrelevant or unrelated to the task at hand and nothing gets done.
Lack of Preparation (47%)
You spend the majority of the meeting just bringing team members up to speed with progress to date or background information, a progress update that could have been delivered via email.
If these complaints sound all too familiar to you, don’t despair. There are a number of ways to influence and enhance the qualities of your organization’s meetings. If you begin taking a few small steps today, you might even find yourself excited at the sound of that meeting request the next time it arrives on your calendar.7
7 Tips for Better Meetings
At SIGMA, we believe in the power of mindfulness. Being aware in the present moment allows us to notice negative patterns that might be happening, and become curious about the ways in which we can change those patterns for the better. To influence your organization’s meeting practices, consider implementing new habits in the following 7 areas:
Cull the List
Does everyone on the meeting invite list need to be there? Remember: You’re not creating a guest list for a 7-year old’s birthday party. We’re not concerned about a classmate’s hurt feelings here; we’re trying to best manage the time of a team of important individuals. Invite the pertinent people and then distribute detailed meeting minutes after the fact to anyone else who wants to be in the know.
Check your Attitude
Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine recently found that having a positive attitude influences our brain activity and our learning. It stands to reason, then, that if you attend a meeting with the belief that it’s a waste of your time, you’ll be less likely to retain the information you receive, and therefore less likely to incorporate it in your practices moving forward. Conversely, cultivating a positive attitude before a meeting by considering the goals, objectives, and potential for positive outcomes could go a long way. If you feel yourself growing frustrated or board during the meeting, use your mindful communication skills to ensure you are giving your best attention to each speaker.
Create a detailed agenda that contains a start and stop time, as well as approximate timing for each item. Distribute this agenda before the meeting, and ask that attendees take the time to review the document, and prepare any additional materials that they may need during the meeting. If necessary, suggest background reading or information and attach it to the agenda.
Watch the Clock
Establish a firm start and end time for the meeting. To encourage others to arrive early, lead by example. Give everyone a moment to settle in, and then stick to the agenda’s timelines as much as possible. Make everyone aware at the beginning of the meeting that there will be a hard stop at the end time, and that as such, any additional items not on the agenda should be tabled for another discussion.
Depending on the nature of your organization, you may want to consider introducing a “no devices” rule at meetings. This ensures that attendees are focused on the present moment, rather than responding to unrelated texts and emails.
To truly enhance the productivity of a meeting, make sure to establish next steps and assign them to each team member before parting ways. This provides you with an easy way to measure progress, while also ensuring the clear communication of expectations.
How SIGMA Can Help
SIGMA Assessment Systems offers a number of diverse solutions to enhance leadership capabilities and assist organizations in crafting more meaningful and productive processes. To learn more about how mindfulness training could help your team get more out of your meetings, contact us today.
 Harvard Business Review, “Stop the Meeting Madness”, https://hbr.org/2017/07/stop-the-meeting-madness
 Ladders, “Survey: Workers Reveal Their Biggest Complaints About Meetings”, https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/survey-workers-reveal-their-biggest-complaints-about-meetings
 Stanford Medicine New Centre, “Positive Attitude Toward Math Predicts Math Achievement in Kids”, https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2018/01/positive-attitude-toward-math-predicts-math-achievement-in-kids.html