Are Your Company’s Meetings Terrible? Here’s How to Fix Them

According to recent data, anywhere from 36 million to 55 million meetings take place on a daily basis in the United States. Research published in the Harvard Business Review reveals that meetings have increased in both frequency and length over the last 50 years — a fact that many employees have probably suspected but can now confirm. What’s more, eShare estimates that 59% of the average 4.4 meetings attended by workers every week are considered unnecessary. And if you’re thinking that your organization’s meetings are the exception, think again. Your meetings are probably just as bad as all the rest.

In the U.S., small businesses (defined as companies with fewer than 500 employees) make up 99.7% of all businesses. But no matter the size of your organization, your meetings could probably use some improvement. They’re thought of as a necessary evil by many, though having an excessive number of pointless meetings can be enough to make employees want to pull their hair out — and maybe even start looking for other jobs. Since around 51% of employees say they’re actively searching for new openings, businesses need to do everything they can to keep their employees engaged. The high costs associated with turnover alone would scare any business owner into taking a close look at the way they run things. But then there’s also the money pit that meetings represent. We waste an estimated $37 billion on unproductive meetings every year. So if your meetings fail to produce real results, you are literally wasting both time and money. But there is hope — if you rethink your meeting routines completely. Here are some new approaches to take under consideration.

Nix the Monday Morning 9 a.m.

You might feel that starting off with a morning meeting on Monday will set the tone for the entire week — and you’re not wrong. But the tone you’ll be setting isn’t necessarily a good one. According to a report by Moneyish, employees tend to feel that those meetings are akin to getting up on the wrong side of the bed. It’s too early to really contribute to conversations, for one thing. While 46% of workers say coffee helps them stay productive at work, that’s a bit too soon for the caffeine to kick in. Plus, a lot of employees would rather catch up on emails and ease into the week, rather than be faced with an intimidating table of coworkers and managers. Since as many as 81% of workers experience the “Sunday Scaries” — feelings of dread and anxiety pertaining to the week ahead — you might want to give your employees a break and allow them to find their groove before you reconvene. Experts say that more important meetings should actually be saved until later in the day; workers will feel more energized, creative, and ready to face the tough stuff when needed. And even though Jeff Bezos prefers morning meetings, he at least waits until 10.

Make Meetings More Collaborative and Goal-Oriented

One study found that employees in the UK, France, and Germany spend the equivalent of 23 days every year in meetings, with at least 56% of those being seen as “unproductive.” Around 66% of those employees surveyed said they made up excuses not to attend those meetings: 10% said they pretend to get the time or the date wrong, while one in 20 of those employees said they’ve called in sick so they don’t have to go. To alleviate this problem, some businesses have made many meetings entirely mandatory. But ideally, you’ll want your employees to want to be there. One way to do this is to make the purpose clear and to make the techniques you employ more collaborative. No one wants to sit through a meeting where managers and executives drone on and on. If you want your employees to feel invigorated, you need to be clear about your goals and ensure this is a space where everyone can be heard (as long as the agenda is followed). Yes, there are certain protocols that should be established and followed to ensure these meetings don’t get derailed. But the key to engaging your employees is to make them feel valued. So why not start with how meetings are conducted?

Don’t Schedule a Meeting When an Email Will Do

eShare found that around 24% of employees surveyed said the same outcomes that were produced from a pointless meeting could have easily been replicated by sending an email. You need to learn to recognize when meetings aren’t actually necessary. They may have become your go-to whenever there’s a problem or whenever information needs to be relayed. But before you schedule a meeting, you need to ask yourself whether there’s a more efficient way to get the word out. Remember: meetings — even when they’re actually necessary — will cost your company money. The less time you can spend in the meeting room, the better your finances will be. That’s not to say you should eliminate meetings altogether. But when a quick company email will tell your employees the same information way faster, it’s really a no-brainer.

Consider Making Meetings Phone-Free

Although studies have found that retention of information three days after a meeting is six times greater when both oral and visual means are utilized in the presentation, there are common behaviors that can interfere with your employees’ ability to engage — like their obsession with their cell phones. The fact that we actually believe we can multitask shows just how unaware we are of our own limitations. Employees may bring their phones or their laptops to meetings in the hopes that they can actually listen to what’s going on and get other work done (or perhaps converse with their friends via text). But the truth is that most of us cannot adequately split our focus between two or more tasks; the lasting result is that our performance suffers in all areas. Studies have actually proven that the practice of multitasking leads to low productivity (sometimes representing as much as a 40% decrease), wasted time, and poor decision making in critical situations. In fact, one report found that organizational multitasking cost more than $450 billion in lost productivity. Since even having our phones in the room presents an irresistible temptation, you might consider making meetings phone-free zones in an effort to end distractions and make meetings more participatory. Employees might not like the idea at first, but they might be surprised by how much they actually accomplish in a meeting without their phones buzzing in their pockets. They might even find they enjoy the atmosphere and will be encouraged to attend other meetings. And that’s what this whole thing is about, isn’t it?

More than likely, regular meetings won’t disappear from your organization completely. But if you give these tips some thought, you may be able to make them more productive and more gratifying for those involved.

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