Are your company’s meetings a waste of time? Try these five tips

We need to do meetings better. Here are five tips that touch on the psychological and the practical to help make them more efficient and productive.

November 28, 2023 8 MINUTE READ
Are your company’s meetings a waste of time? Try these five tips

Many working professionals spend their days hopping from meeting to meeting. Work is squeezed in during the few flurried minutes before meetings begin as people file in or crammed in during evenings in front of the TV. 

When the pandemic started, leaders decided to rethink meeting etiquette. A 2020 McKinsey survey found that “80% of executives were considering or already implementing changes in meeting structure and cadence in response to how people work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Yet as time wore on, many companies saw meetings gobble up employees’ time, leaving little energy or hours left to accomplish actual work. By the end of 2021, working professionals spent about 21.5 hours a week in meetings, a 67 percent increase from February 2020.  

Having a calendar full of meetings is bad for employee morale, but it can also have a high opportunity cost. Companies can spend between roughly $75,000 and $99,000 per person per year for employees at the director level to attend meetings. The bottom line: we need to do meetings better. Here are five tips that touch on the psychological and the practical to help make them more efficient and productive.  

1. Understand the reasons behind poor meeting behavior 

While people may agree that there are too many meetings on the calendar, it’s harder to address a problem unless you get to its root cause. A recent HBR article explores the psychology behind the glut of meetings. Among the common reasons leaders and management can’t let go of meetings include FOMO (fear of missing out), selfish urgency (leadership wants to address now regardless of convenience or opportunity cost), and using them to create accountability. Finding a targeted solution is more manageable once you've identified the motivation or reason behind meeting overload. 

For example, if you feel that you need to attend every meeting your team does, is that for solidarity? FOMO? Or do you lack confidence in or trust your team's ability to make the "right" decision without you there? 

2. Identify the kind of meeting you’re having

Before putting a meeting on the calendar, be clear on what kind of meeting it is. While there is some debate as to the different types of meetings, they do tend to fall into one of three broad categories

  • Discussion
  • Decision-making
  • Updates or information-sharing meetings:

3. Set an agenda with clear objectives 

This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many meetings happen without a clear road map. No matter what kind of meeting you’re having, a clear agenda with talking points or items to discuss, debate, or decide on is necessary. The plan should also include desired outcomes. If relevant, share any documents, data, or other relevant information alongside the agenda so that people come to meetings prepared instead of trying to get up to speed in the moment. 

4. Be thoughtful about participants and their roles

The agenda can also help clarify who should be present for a meeting and who can sit out. For example, if a company holds regular product development meetings, it makes sense to include the marketing team alongside the product team. Marketing is ultimately responsible for positioning the product and building the correct narrative before launch, so the earlier they are involved, the better. In contrast, bringing in the sales team might make sense when you're further down the development path toward a launch.  

Each participant should also have a clear role. Are people there as decision-makers? To represent their department and make recommendations? Are they responsible for sharing meeting outcomes and assigning the next steps to participants? If someone is at a meeting to "observe," then it's safe to say they probably don't need to be there. 

5. Do regular meeting audits

Leadership should conduct a meeting audit every few months to ensure recurring meetings are necessary or serve their intended function. Look at your and your team’s calendar and see if you can answer these questions: 

  • What is the purpose of this meeting? Check-in meetings that may have felt imperative a few months ago could no longer be necessary. Do you need weekly one-on-ones with everyone or just a few people on your team?
  • Look at old agendas and decide whether these discussion points should be addressed over email, or do they need to be in person (or over Zoom)?
  • Conduct an informal survey of attendees to get their thoughts on the meetings: Are they too long? Unorganized? Lacking clear outcomes?
  • Are there any positive business outcomes you can tie to these meetings?

Use the answers to these questions to help you find ways to improve meetings. Or, if a meeting isn't meeting the mark, feel free to delete it from your calendar and enjoy getting more of your time back.