Remember that company where every meeting was useful and productive? Neither do we.
As much as we try, we don’t always get it right. But we have noticed some frequent problems and set some guidelines to say goodbye to meetings that suck time and drain creativity.
Here are 8 common meeting pitfalls—and solutions for turning unproductive meetings into time well spent.
Problem 1: status updates in the name of transparency
“Can everyone share what they’re working on this week?” The problem isn’t the visibility (people appreciate this), it’s the format. There’s little need for this to be done in real-time.
Solution: convert status updates or ‘check-in’ meetings to async
Slack is good for this. Here’s a simple three-question template that people can quickly answer and drop into a thread:
What have been your two to three top tasks [this week/this past sprint]?
What's your top focus for [today/this sprint]?
Anything blocking your progress?
Problem 2: passive listening to presentations
You connect to a meeting, and the first 25 minutes is your coworker talking through a slide presentation. Good information, but does everyone need to stop what they’re doing to listen to this at the same time?
Solution: record and pre-share all one-to-many presentations
Rather than booking a meeting to have teammates watch a presentation, pre-record the presentation using an async video tool (like Loom). After teammates have reviewed the material on their own time, schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss unclear sections or make decisions.
Problem 3: underprepared participants
“Why are we having this meeting?” No one should ever ask this question. Without a clear reason for being in a meeting, discussions wander and people lose interest.
Solution: prepare your attendees before meetings
Include a description in the meeting invite, along with the following pre-meeting essentials:
Pre-reading material: what do you need to know to participate in the meeting?
A clear agenda: what’s the order of events and allocated time for each?
A clear goal or objective: how do you know when the meeting is over?
Problem 4: meetings expand to fill the time
A common meeting pitfall is dragging meetings on after the agenda is complete. You have 10 minnutes left, so people start getting into other topics. Don’t feel obliged to fill that time.
Solution: end the meeting once the objective is reached
Give people that time back. Assign owners and follow-up items, and then wrap up the meeting. No one will be disappointed that the meeting finished early.
Problem 5: longer-than-needed meetings
Our brains like round numbers and familiar patterns—and so does Google Calendar. So meetings are often booked for 60 minutes out of habit, not necessity.
Solution: set your default meeting time to 30 minutes
Most meetings can be concluded in 30 minutes. If you think you need longer, try 45 minutes instead of jumping straight to a full hour. Timeboxing keeps everyone focused on reaching the meeting’s objectives in the allotted time.
Tip: you can adjust the default meeting time in Google Calendar in your Settings menu.
Problem 6: the deliberation merry-go-round
Healthy debate and deliberation are essential for good decision-making. And hopefully, the people in a meeting are there because you value their input (see Problem 8). But too often, overly democratic decision processes run in endless circles or end in compromises that no one’s happy with.
Solution: don’t make decisions by committee
Empower a single decision-maker to listen to input from different voices and make the call. This makes for less diluted decisions with a higher level of accountability.
Problem 7: calendar Tetris
Ever tried to find that shared open space on more than a few people’s calendars? Oh there’s a good time—a week from next Thursday. When it comes to making important decisions, a couple of weeks may be too long.
Solution: ping the relevant decision-makers and let them know it can’t wait
Ask key stakeholders to make time—even if 15 minutes—in the next day or two. How people do this depends on the dynamics of the team involved. But don’t let busy calendars be your blocker.
Problem 8: non-contributing attendees
You’ve been in meetings where some people just sit and listen. Maybe you’ve been that listener. Do these ears-only attendees really need to be there in real-time?
Solution: Follow the 10% rule when inviting guests
Invite people to the meeting only if you think they’ll contribute at least 10% of the time. Otherwise, they shouldn't be invited. And if you’re invited but don’t think you’ll have much to say, decline politely and instead ask for the summary afterward.
The fine print: This isn’t about forcing people to participate or literally measuring each participant’s contribution. It’s about being more conscientious when inviting people to a meeting.
Different meetings, different rules—except one
A big caveat to all of these guidelines: they don’t apply to all meetings. These are intended for business- or project-oriented meetings.
For example, in a company-wide meeting, you wouldn’t expect everyone to participate roughly 10% of the time. These events serve a different purpose, so different guidelines apply.
Other meetings, like one-on-ones, are sacred for a different reason: they’re vital for open feedback and building rapport between a lead and their team members. Don’t cancel these. These real-time connections are important for the well-being of the team.
There is one rule that applies to every meeting: be nice.
Effective meetings don’t require you to give up your humanity. Getting down to business doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly and respectful.
It’s still really important to build relationships, and make quality time to do fun, social activities. So some sessions are made for socialization. But everyone should know which type of meeting they’re logging into when they click to connect.
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