How to Make Your Next Office Meeting Worth the Time
Most of us would agree that we waste a ton of time in office meetings. But maybe we exaggerate how much time we spend in meetings, and underestimate the value of getting everyone together.
Still, there’s got to be a better way of getting everyone on the same page than the current, mainstream way of doing things. Right?
The current way of doing things looks like this. From a study by Atlassian:
- Employees attend 62 meetings per month, on average
- ½ of meetings are considered wasted time
- Employees spend 31 hours per month, on average, in unproductive meetings
Research from Harvard Business Review shows:
- “65% [of senior managers] said meetings keep them from completing their own work”
- “71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient”
- “62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together”
Meetings can actually be productive, wonderful things that bring organization and clarity to chaotic ideas or situations. But there’s definite room for improvement.
By following the steps below, you’ll ensure your next office meeting adds value to everyone in attendance, and - if you can imagine it - might even be enjoyable!
How to Make Your Next Office Meeting Worth the Time
1. Prioritize three things.
Before you run off to have more meetings, first check your priorities.
A.) Do you need to have that meeting? Could the same message be conveyed in an email, text, instant message, PDF attachment, or impromptu conversation with one person?
If “yes,” there’s no sense in going through all the hoopla of organizing and conducting a meeting.
B.) Who needs to be there? Meetings are often held with many people, when only one or a few need to be involved in the conversation (or lecture). Everyone else could be putting in good work elsewhere. Why steal their time and force them to join?
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos famously doesn't have teams (or team meetings) with more than “two pizzas” worth of attendees. That’s not a bad rule to follow: If you can’t feed everyone with two pizzas, you have too many people.
C.) Would anyone else benefit from or find value in attending? Maybe a sales guy wants to learn more about the marketing department. Perhaps a potential partner would enjoy seeing the top guns conduct business. An invitation to join you if they have time could help others learn and grow.
2. Keep it engaging (by doing this).
Sometimes long meetings are great and helpful. Other times, people will simply tune out. To keep people more engaged at your next office meeting, do these three things.
A.) Keep it short. Studies show the “ideal” length of time for an office meeting is about 22 minutes. Coincidentally - or maybe it’s no coincidence at all - the best performing podcasts also last 18-22 minutes. And sitcoms, which many regularly binge watch, last an average of about 22 minutes.
Sure, you can probably work on something for longer than 20 minutes without losing focus, but research (and our own experiences) shows us a time limit could be a good parameter that helps everyone.
B.) Stick to one topic. Don’t try to do too much. The brain can only fully process one thing at a time, so if you want your attendees to be fully engaged and contribute their best, work on one topic at a time.
C.) Leave computers out of it. Studies consistently show the pen is mightier than the keyboard when it comes to memory (recall) and focus.
Computers and phones - however helpful they may be in general - are distractions during meetings. “Taking notes” on them fails to help you process the information, and the temptation to check notifications is palpable.
If you want to take notes, use a legal pad. If you need to share something, bring a handout.
3. Share materials early.
When teachers want to test your knowledge and abilities, they set a date to do so. They also share the material you’re going to be tested on beforehand, so that you can prepare and put your best foot forward.
If you want to see attendees’ best work during the meeting, share your notes, presentation, numbers, etc. ahead of time. This way, attendees can actually process the information before they’re supposed to have opinions on it or give recommendations for what to do with it.
4. Decide next steps (before you leave).
How many times have you had a meeting - maybe even had a great conversation - and then nothing happened after you left? It’s as if all those ideas and discussions never occurred!
This is common when “next steps” aren’t firmly decided.
To make sure your office meeting was actually worth the time, and to make sure the next one is, too, you have to do something. Here that means explicitly stating who’s responsible for what and when. Example:
“Okay we’ve decided to do [X]. Next, [Pam] needs to [do this], [Jim] needs to [do that], and all this should be done by [next Tuesday]. Then we can [do the next step].”
An email follow up just after the meeting, with a summary of events and who’s responsible for what, is also a good idea.
5. Get feedback.
Three things help us improve:
- And coaching
There’s a chance you could get all three just by asking your colleagues, “Hey, how could I get better [at this]?” For instance:
“Hey [Caroline], I know this data is dense, but it’s also important. What do you think I could do to make it more appealing or interesting?”
“People seem to get frustrated with me easily. What am I not doing right?”
As long as people can trust that what they say won’t come back to bite them, asking your co-workers how you can improve will give you insights to think and act on.
PC: Office Vibe
How can you enact change?
Even if you love every word and tip in this article, you can’t just read it and expect your office meetings to be magically better. You have to do something about it!
Here are a couple of “next step” options. Pick one and run with it.
A.) If you’re in charge of any meetings, put these tips to practice. Tell your team(s), “We’re going to be having shorter meetings, I’ll share materials with you beforehand so you can prepare, and if you think it’s pointless for you to be at a meeting, tell me and we’ll discuss it.”
Then follow through on your word. You’re in charge, it’s up to you.
B.) If you are not in charge, then you need to talk to who is, preferably one at a time if there are multiple people in charge.
Go to them and say, “I’ve noticed something that’s not being done very well around here, and I have a few ideas on how we can do it better.” That will normally grab a manager's attention. Then you can share the tips in this article, and any other ideas you have.