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Jun 13, 2024

Why Meetings Suck and What to Do About It

Sponsored Content provided by Jordan Cain - Chief Operating Officer , APPROVE

We've all been there—stuck in meetings that feel like they're going nowhere. So, how do we keep meetings from being uninspiring, unproductive, and ultimately, expensive?

The Problem

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • Research shows that around 70% of meetings keep employees from completing their actual work. 
  • Though meetings have shortened over the last few years, the number of meetings attended by employees increased by almost 15%. 
  • Studies show that 92% of employees consider meetings costly and unproductive. 
That last bullet should make you think. When meetings are poorly structured or aimlessly long, they drain energy and enthusiasm, leaving people feeling frustrated and ineffective. Not only do bad meetings waste time, but they also demotivate our most important asset – talented people.

What to do: 

1. Rethink meeting types

Meetings are not one size fits all – they should be structured based on their purpose and limited to a singular outcome.
  • Inform: Schedule a quick meeting with only the necessary participants. Bonus points if you turn said meeting into an email. 
  • Decide: Ensure the proper context is provided ahead of time. Keep the meeting on track by providing an agenda of questions that must be answered (see bullet point #3). 
  • Brainstorm: Make sure the problem is very clearly defined. When brainstorming, it’s essential to hear from everyone in the room and to avoid “groupthink.” Structure the meeting in a way that encourages various people to contribute. Importantavoid saying “yes, but...” during brainstorming meetings. As soon as we start to limit our options, the brain begins to narrow its focus and prevent creative, big picture thinking. The goal of the meeting is to dream up anything possible – you can decide to scrap it later. 
  • Connect: If you’re connecting 1:1, try a walk or an outdoor meeting. Studies show that our brains operate differently when moving our bodies. 
 
2. Protect Against Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to fit the time its given to be completed. There is no rule requiring that meetings must be scheduled for an hour. Be intentional about how much time you block and stick to it. 

Scheduling a shorter meeting will encourage the group to stay focused. I once had a boss that scheduled “odd-numbered” meetings (think: 23 minutes). It was a surprisingly effective way to keep things fun, fast-paced, and to give everyone a few minutes back. 

3. Stop “Discussing” Things

Discussing topics can be a useful format, but the most successful meetings I see are designed to answer very specific questions. Keep in mind that your meeting is as successful as the clarity of your question, and the more precise the ask, the better.

For example, a general question like “How can we improve ‘x’ process?” can be used as a topic, but the agenda will need guideposts like: 
  • What’s hard about ‘x’ process?
  • Who’s impacted here? 
  • What is the ultimate goal of the process? What do we need to protect? 
  • What have/ haven’t we tried? 
  • How will we measure success?
Don’t forget bullet point #1 when designing agendas– brainstorming and solving are best done separately. Studies show that a more focused, shorter conversation will produce greater results than a longer “junk drawer” meeting meant to accomplish a list of competing items. 

4. Encourage Curiosity and Productive Conflict

Cultivating curiosity transforms meetings by encouraging participants to engage deeply and think creatively. This involves asking open-ended questions, listening attentively, and inviting debate. 

Effective meetings come from exploring the problem more than driving toward a singular solution.  The best meeting leaders invite the entire group to investigate together, challenge each other, and build bigger. 

5. Follow through. Every single time. 

There is nothing worse than spending valuable time in a meeting and leaving without direction. Every single meeting you have should have action items, timelines, and owners. 

The “how” matters less than the “what” here. A few options:
  • The meeting facilitator takes notes on action items, owners, and timelines throughout the meeting and reviews them with the group at large during the final five minutes. 
  • The group chooses a designated recorder for the meeting, who owns both logging ideas and concrete action items. To do’s, owners, and timelines are sent in an email immediately after the meeting. 
  • For more general meetings (e.g., weekly sales training), the next steps may look different! Go around the room and ask each rep what they will focus on/ do differently over the next week. 
There are countless ways to ensure concrete next steps are acknowledged; all that matters is deciding what they are, who owns them, and by when they will be done. 

A final note

By rethinking how we structure meetings, emphasizing engagement, and being intentional about how we use participants' time, we can make meetings work for us. Remember: the goal isn’t to eliminate meetings – it’s to eliminate bad meetings. 

So much of what limits us when it comes to meetings is what we’ve always believed to be true. Breaking structure and bad habits can make meetings the most collaborative, creative, and connective time you have together. 
 
References: 
Dear Manager, You’re Holding Too Many Meetings (hbr.org)
Battling Parkinson's Law - PMC (nih.gov)
 
About APPROVE: 

APPROVE is an award-winning fintech startup and one of Wilmington's fastest-growing SaaS companies. You can learn more about working with us at https://www.approvepayments.com/careers.
 

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