How many meetings do you attend in a typical month? Ten, twenty, more? How many are necessary or important? Do they even achieve anything?
Do your meetings get hijacked by the office bore who goes off at a tangent? Perhaps they drag on, wasting everyone's time? Or, worse still, include people who don't need to be there?
If so, then it's time you made meetings more productive.
Key facts about unproductive meetings
- UK workers waste, on average, 13 days a year in meetings
- Executives spend around a third of their working week (18 hours) in meetings
- The cost of poorly organised meetings was $399bn in the US and $58bn in the UK in 2019
- The average meeting takes around one hour
- Over a quarter of people felt that poorly organised meetings impacted client and supplier relationships
- The key elements of a productive meeting are setting clear objectives (72%) and having a clear agenda (67%)
- Two-thirds said they felt morning meetings were generally better than afternoons
- In another survey, 1 in 20 people admitted calling in sick to get out of meetings
- An estimated 25-50% of meeting time is wasted
- 39% of people admitted dozing off in meetings, and 70% have brought other work to meetings
How to make your meetings more productive
1. Define the purpose of your meeting
Decide first what the purpose of the meeting is and whether it's really necessary. If it's to share information, would a report be better? If it's to make a decision, could you talk directly to the decision-maker instead? If it's to gauge opinion, what about a poll? Never hold meetings as a way of sharing information.
2. Set a meeting agenda
Ensure you know what exactly will be covered in each meeting, how long it should take, and stick to those timings. Share the agenda before the meeting to ensure that attendees are prepared and able to offer feedback.
If there's no agenda, reschedule or cancel the meeting.
3. Ensure someone leads the meeting
By having someone lead the meeting, they can ensure that all voices are heard and that the meeting does not stray off-topic.
4. Get the right people attending the meeting
The more people who attend, the bigger the drop in productivity. So, be selective and only invite those who have a specific role. Make sure that key decision-makers can attend. If they can't, you'll need to postpone.
5. Consider competing priorities
Allow colleagues to decline your invitation if they can demonstrate that it's not essential to their job. Inviting people to make up the numbers is not a good idea.
If many are on holiday, or there is a business-critical deadline it may make sense to postpone meetings or even cancel one that happens regularly.
6. Set meeting ground rules
Consider banning technology, mobile phones, and refreshments so everyone remains focused and the meeting isn't stretched out unduly. If presenting, ensure it is clear when it is appropriate to interrupt, ask questions or voice concerns.
7. Ensure participants understand any jargon
If a diverse audience attends or the meeting comprises participants from different companies or different parts of the business, avoid buzzwords and make sure jargon is fully explained. Clarity is key.
8. Invite feedback
During the meeting ask if there are any concerns or roadblocks. At the end of the meeting ask those who attended for feedback about the effectiveness, duration, timing and content.
9. Experiment & try new ideas
Think about holding stand-up meetings, as research shows they can cut meeting time by a third. Consider hybrid meetings to allow those elsewhere to attend remotely via video conferencing.
10. Allocate housekeeping tasks by rotation
When allocating tasks like time-keeping, note-taking and getting refreshments, you can eliminate the possibility of discrimination or unconscious bias by using rotation.
11. Define takeaways & assign follow-up actions
All too often, meetings fail to accomplish their objectives because of inertia. Once the meeting has ended, good intentions fade away - due to other demands. To avoid this, end each meeting with an action plan detailing follow-up tasks, responsibilities and timescales.
Meetings can be a powerful way of sharing knowledge, formulating strategy, building rapport and fostering collaboration. With these top tips, you can ensure you get the most out of all your meetings and a win-win for everyone.
12. Share relevant documents post-meeting
By sharing the meeting notes you both provide a reminder of the action points that were agreed on and make everyone who attended feel their input was appreciated. Remember to also share any assets referred to within the meeting, where appropriate.
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