The number one time waster at work is ineffective meetings. Even before Covid when in-office meetings were the norm, meetings were a source of huge frustration and time wasting. And since Covid forced many of us into remote working, the degree to which meetings now account for our time has gone up exponentially and unfortunately so has the amount of time they waste
The more meetings we have, the seemingly more ineffective they have become.
In one regard you would think because we are now having more meetings, that they would be handled more efficiently - in fact all the data leads to suggest the opposite is true ; we are having more meetings and they are becoming less efficient
In one way it is difficult to say why this is happening, at Clearword we suspect it is because a lack of tooling and are attempting to fill those gaps. Plus, meetings are being treated as a catch all solutions for remote work communication being tasked with handling a lot of different communication tasks that are note ideal for standard meeting formats. However, one thing is obvious - the best way to make lasting impact and improve meeting cultures is to teach people how to run better meetings.
The three phases of Meetings : Before, During & After.
Before we highlight any specific tips, you should get your team to start thinking about not only as what happens during the scheduled call itself but looking at the 3 stages of meetings; Before, During and After.
Before doing anything else in this article, get you and your team to discuss the meeting stages and where some of your biggest friction points occur. Do you have bad Pre Meeting Preparation? Do meetings always run too long? Do team members struggle to find out what was agreed upon after? We have written more in depth about Meeting Phases here
A simple, collaborative discussion about your meeting culture will often highlight problem areas and solutions that make huge differences in how effective your meeting are run.
Below are 5 tips we have seen make huge impacts in team meeting cultures.
Tip 1 : Ban Update meetings
Ban all update meetings and rethink how to communicate "update" information.
Update meetings are probably the biggest time waster meeting out there. Meetings need to have a purpose. Meetings simply should be about something, even if it is loosely defined. Updates meetings are often open-ended and in most cases can be handled in better ways which are more respectful of others time.
Meetings if over-simplified can be bracketed into Resolutions - where you need people in a room to agree on something ( i.e sign off on spend) or they can be Brainstorming meetings, where we gather to collaboratively ideate on a topic. This is what meetings are most effective for, not just updates.
For most cases, updates can be handled asynchronously and can be a huge time saver doing it this way.
In pre meeting preparation, ask the questions : What meeting are you running? If you realise it is an update meeting, be very defensive of your teams time and ask yourself does this meeting need to happen. Try organising your updates to be asynchronous and see how that can improve your teams experience. Although it sounds simple, It can often be one of the biggest impacts to helping organisations move towards an effective meeting culture.
Tip 2 : Prepare for your meeting
We talk with a lot of different organisations about their meeting practices, and one thing that we realise is that everyone is approaching meetings differently and nowhere is this clearer than how people prepare for meetings. It seems everyone has a different way of approaching this.
Documentation starts with the agenda and the information that is sent out before the meeting starts. Giving participants enough time to absorb the information before a meeting is key. Sending out an email with related documents the night before a meeting doesn't give participants an adequate amount of time to consume the information and leads to people showing up uninformed. This is even more important in larger Team Meetings with more people involved. Often, what we see in these cases is a cohort of participants needing to be brought up to speed during the call.
In the case where there is accompanying documentation associated with a meeting, make sure that the documentation is distributed with enough time for everyone to read it. The more in depth the document the earlier it should be distributed of course. A good goal is to send out the information no later than 3 days before the meeting time.
As well as adequate Pre Meeting Information an Agenda is a powerful tool.
At its most basic a simple Agenda can go a long way in helping participants understand what will be discussed and can help them be prepared.
Creating simple Agenda templates can also help team members adopt more easily.
Depending on the type of organisation it can help to define the expectations for your team. For example : Always have an Agenda no matter how basic, or if there is required reading for a meeting, the documents must be sent at least 3 days in advance. When team members have defined guidelines, it helps adoption greatly.
Tip 3 : Meeting Setup & Join Early
Again, a simple thing but it is surprising how often this doesn't happen. If you are the meeting organiser in particular join early to the meeting to ensure that you have everything ready and in working order so the meeting runs smoothly. Plus, in the remote working space - participants are often left in a waiting room if the host is not present. This is not a great experience for anyone, so be respectful and show up early.
Especially if there will be a presentation element, just making sure there are no technical difficulties with audio or visuals is important. Double check with another participant that the video and sound is correctly working on others setups. It is amazing how much time, these technical issues can take on remote calls.
Fumbling with sound preferences, video settings or microphones is not a good look for anyone and can really cause a meeting to run off track.
Join early, get everything setup, test it is working, so when everyone joins you are ready to go.
Tip 4 : Define Meeting Best Practices
A great way to manage meetings and ensure effectiveness is to have clearly defined "Best Practices". In physical offices sometimes these type of "rules" might have be printed and attached to the meeting wall, we don't really advocate for enforcing rules as such, but having agreed upon best practices for how meetings should be run is often a good step in building a collective understanding of how meetings are run by organisation.
The most common Best Practices topics relate to time management and what happens when we run over allotted times for topics. If a good agenda is present and we have allocated 10mins equally for 3 topics, then it is best to try and stick to the Agenda. However, problems occur when discussions roll on and absorb the majority of a meeting time. The downside to this is not only are certain topics given less or no time, it usually requires that another meeting be called to address the topics that were missed. This is the source of Meeting Creep.
The trickiest part about time management comes down to the enforcement of the time slots. Who is the person that keeps an eye on the time? And who has the authority to interject and cut short a discussion
With all meeting best practices, it will vary from organisation to organisation. Some teams find that having a visible clock helps enforce the time rules. Allocating time segments to topics is an even more advanced version of this and if agreed upon collectively as best practice, can have a powerful effect on keeping meetings run smoothly.
Meeting Best Practices should be collaboratively assembled by the teams involved. Sit down with your teams and craft together how you want meetings to run.
Having the best practices crafted by the team itself will ensure strong buy-in and will be more likely to succeed.
If these best practices are perceived as "rules" handed down by upper management it is less likely they will be observed and will likely be ineffective.
Apply some structure on how you will deal with unresolved issues. If we don't find an agreement for this topic during the allotted time, what do we do? Where do we move this to?
Tip 5 : Meeting Summary & Post Meeting Ritual
At the end of your meeting, take 5-10 mins to record the action items and what was agreed upon by everyone involved. So many teams don't do this and just assume that everyone has their own notes or an excellent memory. This can lead to a huge amount of misunderstanding and misalignment.
Assign responsibilities and due dates clearly so that expectations are all clearly defined. If we take the time to establish what the action items were, this keeps everyone in sync and creates a clear pathway to getting those tasks done. Try to send out a summary of the meeting outcomes within 24 hours of the meeting.
The post meeting phase of the meeting is the most critical part of making sure that what was discussed in the meetings gets acted upon.
Clearly communicating the agreed upon outcomes and making sure that all participants have access to the summary is critical to building teams that meet and get things done effectively.
If you think that you don't have time to create this kind of follow on content or that it will be too much of a burden, it doesn't need to be a huge amount of work - try with the most simple version of this. Use things like templates or pre filled documents that make it easy for you. Have a standard Action Item template that is filled out at the end of the meeting and distribute that to your colleagues.
Get your team to think of the 3 meeting phases : Before, During & After and how you can be better prepared for each of these phases.
- No Update Meetings - Try Async
- Prepare for your meeting.
- Meeting Setup & Join Early
- Define Best Meeting Practices
- Meeting Summary & Post Meeting Ritual