How to Banish Bad Meetings with Good Internal Communication
August 31, 2023
Meetings are an essential part of working together; bad meetings aren’t.
Of course bad meetings are a waste of time, but if time was the only price bad meetings extracted, it would be a lot easier to dismiss them as annoying, yet benign. Truly bad meetings aren’t just annoying though—they can leave attendees disengaged, demotivated, or worse.
The Harvard Business Review recently discussed just how excruciating a calendar full of boring meetings can be, and they don’t appear to be trending down anytime soon. Research by Zippia found approximately 55 million meetings take place each week in the United States alone. That means more than 1 billion meetings every year. The same research found that attendees consider a staggering 71% of those meetings unproductive, and it doesn’t stop there.
- Zippia's research found that 65% of employees said meetings kept them from completing their own work.
- HR Digest found that a shocking 95% of meeting attendees missed parts of meetings, and 39% admitted to dozing off.
- LiveCareer discovered that 75% of survey respondents admitted to performing other tasks, such as reading online news or checking social media, during meetings.
- A SurveyMonkey poll revealed that 32% of employees attending virtual meetings think that most or even all of the meetings "could have been an email."
Communication plays an integral role in scheduling, preparing for, and running a productive meeting. A surplus of poorly run, pointless, and frustrating meetings is symptomatic of communication issues that need to be addressed. So let’s address those issues, starting with
Signs You Might Be in (or in for) a Bad Meeting
There are a number of factors that can make a meeting bad, unproductive, or boring. Many of those factors show some telltale signs early on, and if you get good at noticing them, you can spare yourself and your colleagues some frustration.
1. There is no clear agenda.
Not every meeting needs a strict agenda, but most benefit from at least a basic understanding of what you’re there to do. Some of the problems a meeting with no well-defined agenda may have include:
Lack of focus
Without a clear agenda, participants may not know what the meeting is intended to achieve or discuss. This can result in a lack of focus and direction, with discussions veering off-topic and consuming valuable time.
Wasted time and resources
Meetings without an agenda tend to be less productive and efficient. Participants spend excessive time discussing irrelevant or trivial matters, leading to wasted time and resources.
An agenda sets the objectives of a meeting, providing participants with a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished. Without this clarity, attendees may not know what outcomes to work toward, leading to confusion and ineffective decision-making.
An agenda allows participants to prepare for the meeting by gathering relevant information and putting thought into potential topics of discussion or possible solutions to problems. Without an agenda, individuals may not have sufficient time to prepare adequately, resulting in unprepared attendees and potentially uninformed discussions.
Lack of engagement
Agenda-less meetings often lack structure and purpose, leading to disengagement among participants. People may feel that their time is being wasted and may become less motivated to contribute or to participate in future meetings.
Difficulty in tracking progress
An agenda helps track the progress of a meeting by providing a structured outline of topics to be covered. Without an agenda, it becomes challenging to keep track of decisions and actions agreed upon during the meeting.
2. No one is the obvious meeting leader.
A meeting without a clear leader can be problematic in several ways:
Lack of direction
Without a leader, there may be no one to move the agenda along, establish goals, or define the purpose of the meeting. As a result, discussions can become disorganized and unproductive.
A meeting leader plays a crucial role in facilitating decision-making processes. They guide discussions, gather input from attendees, and help the group come to a consensus or make a final decision. Without a leader, decision-making can become challenging and lead to indecisiveness, conflicting opinions, and unresolved issues.
Absence of facilitation
A leader often acts as a facilitator, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to speak, managing interruptions, and encouraging active participation from all attendees. In the absence of a leader, certain individuals may dominate the conversation while others remain silent, resulting in imbalanced contributions and a missed opportunity to gather diverse perspectives.
Lack of accountability
A leader is typically responsible for assigning action items, tracking progress, and ensuring that outcomes from the meeting are implemented. Without a clear leader, there may be ambiguity regarding who is responsible for following up on tasks. This can lead to important decisions being forgotten or overlooked.
3. The meeting begins late and/or runs long.
Although there is a time and place for flexibility at work, most meetings should start and end on time for several important reasons, including:
Respect for attendees' time
Starting and ending on schedule demonstrates respect for everyone's time and shows that they are valued. Punctuality fosters a culture of efficiency and professionalism within an organization.
Productivity and efficiency
Meetings that run late cut into time that attendees need to complete their other job responsibilities. By sticking to the scheduled start and end times, meetings can focus on the agenda and accomplish intended goals more effectively.
Accountability and discipline
Timely meetings encourage attendees to be accountable for their commitments. When meetings consistently start and end on time, participants are more likely to prepare in advance and come prepared, which enhances the overall quality and productivity of discussions.
Meeting flow and momentum
Meetings are often interconnected, and one meeting's delay can cause a ripple effect on subsequent meetings or tasks. Adhering to the scheduled timing maintains the flow and momentum of work, preventing unnecessary delays or disruptions.
Employees have various responsibilities and commitments outside of work. Starting and ending meetings on time allows individuals to manage their workloads effectively and maintain a healthy work-life balance. In addition, it shows consideration for their personal time and helps create a positive work environment.
Perception of professionalism
Consistently keeping meetings on time projects an image of professionalism and reliability to both internal and external stakeholders. It demonstrates that the organization values punctuality, efficiency, and effective time management.
4. There are too many attendees.
Having too many attendees in a meeting can have several negative effects, which may include:
Lack of focus
With a large number of attendees, it becomes difficult to maintain focus and ensure active participation from everyone. People may get distracted, engage in side conversations, or lose interest due to the sheer number of people present.
In a large meeting, it's common for some individuals to remain silent or not contribute actively. This can result in valuable perspectives going unshared, limiting the potential for collaboration and problem-solving.
The more attendees there are, the longer a meeting tends to be. More people means more opinions, questions, and discussions, which can lead to extended meeting durations. Lengthy meetings can drain participants' energy and decrease overall productivity.
Difficulty in decision-making
When there are too many attendees, decision-making can become challenging. Gathering a consensus or achieving a meaningful outcome becomes more complicated with a larger group.
Larger meetings often require more resources, such as a bigger meeting space, audiovisual equipment, or catering. The cost of organizing and managing a large meeting can be significantly higher compared to a smaller, more focused gathering.
Communication becomes more challenging when there are many people involved. It can be harder to ensure everyone's voice is heard, and there is a greater likelihood of miscommunication or misunderstandings.
5. The meeting takes place only because it's a regularly recurring meeting.
Holding a meeting solely because it's recurring without considering its necessity or effectiveness can lead to several disadvantages, such as:
Recurring meetings can often become routine and lose their purpose over time. If the meeting doesn't serve a clear objective or agenda, it can result in wasted time for participants who could be more productive working on other tasks.
Lack of relevance
Over time, the content and topics discussed in recurring meetings may become irrelevant to the current needs of the team. Without regular evaluation and adjustments, these meetings can become repetitive and fail to address pressing issues or contribute to meaningful progress.
When people attend meetings out of habit rather than necessity, their engagement levels tend to drop. This can lead to decreased active participation, lack of focus, and decreased collaboration.
Consistently recurring meetings can result in packed schedules for individuals and teams. Back-to-back meetings can limit the time available for independent work, reflection, and rejuvenation. This can also impede work-life balance and contribute to burnout.
When meetings become an inflexible part of the schedule, it can hinder adaptability and responsiveness to changing circumstances. It becomes challenging to reschedule or cancel meetings when necessary, preventing the team from effectively addressing urgent matters or adjusting their workflow.
6. The meeting ends with no decision or plan of action made.
Ending a meeting with a clear plan of action is crucial for several reasons, including:
Clarity and alignment
A plan of action ensures that all participants have a shared understanding of the decisions made and the steps to be taken. It eliminates confusion or ambiguity regarding the next course of action, preventing misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
Accountability and ownership
When there is a clear plan in place, individuals or teams can be assigned specific tasks or responsibilities. This fosters accountability and helps avoid the "I thought someone else was doing it" situation. Clear ownership increases the likelihood of tasks being completed as intended.
A plan of action provides a framework for tracking progress and measuring outcomes. It serves as a reference point to gauge whether objectives are being met, milestones are being achieved, and timelines are being adhered to. It enables effective monitoring of progress and facilitates timely adjustments if needed.
Time and resource management
With a clear plan, it becomes easier to allocate resources and manage time efficiently. The plan can identify dependencies, set priorities, and lay out timelines, allowing individuals or teams to plan their work accordingly. This helps prevent unnecessary delays, prevents overlapping efforts, and optimizes resource utilization.
A plan of action reinforces the decisions made during the meeting. Documenting the agreed-upon actions provides a reference to ensure that decisions are followed up on and minimizes the risk of tasks being forgotten or disregarded after the meeting concludes.
Communication and coordination
A clear plan of action serves as a communication tool for sharing the outcomes of the meeting with individuals who were not present. This helps keep stakeholders informed about the direction and progress of the project or initiative and facilitates coordination among team members, as everyone is aware of what needs to be done and can collaborate effectively.
Tips on How to Conduct a Productive Meeting
Now that you know the causes, follow these suggestions to prevent boring, pointless meetings:
Be (or assign) the meeting leader.
A clear leader is essential for an effective meeting. The leader should provide direction, facilitate decision-making, encourage participation, ensure accountability, and maximize productivity.
Send the agenda in advance to allow attendees time to prepare.
A meeting agenda is essential for effective meeting management. An agenda ensures clarity, focus, and productivity. It helps participants stay on track, promotes engagement, and facilitates efficient use of time and resources. Consider encouraging input from participants or other leaders when crafting an agenda.
Start and end the meeting on time.
While occasional circumstances may warrant flexibility in meetings, adhering to scheduled start and end times should be the norm in order to maximize productivity, respect participants' time, and promote a positive work culture.
Invite only the necessary participants.
Obviously, town hall meetings may be an exception to this rule, but it is generally advisable to keep the number of meeting attendees limited to those who are directly involved or have a significant contribution to make. Smaller, more focused meetings often lead to better engagement, increased productivity, and more effective decision-making.
Conduct meetings only when necessary.
To avoid these issues, it's important to regularly evaluate the purpose, relevance, and effectiveness of recurring meetings. Only hold them if they are genuinely needed, have clear objectives, and contribute to the overall productivity and progress of the team or organization.
End meetings with a clear plan of action.
Overall, ending a meeting with a clear plan of action enhances productivity, accountability, and effective execution. It aligns participants, clarifies responsibilities, and provides a roadmap for achieving desired outcomes.
Banish Boring Meetings
Good internal communication sets the stage for productive meetings by:
- Establishing clear objectives
- Promoting collaboration
- Facilitating timely information sharing
- Reducing misunderstandings
- Fostering engagement
- Enabling effective follow-up
Enhancing these internal communication aspects plays a crucial role in improving meeting quality and driving better outcomes for teams and organizations.