How to avoid unnecessary meetings and get more value from the meetings you do attend

The biggest complaint we hear from people in the workplace is the amount of time they feel are wasted in endless and sometimes unnecessary meetings that distract and even detract from doing value adding work. With the fast adoption of virtual platforms like Teams, Zoom, Slack, etc… it’s becoming a lot easier and faster to organise and attend meetings, increasing likelihood of even more unnecessary meetings being pushed into schedules.

From our experience as coaches and OD practitioners, much of this is caused by meeting organisers not spending enough time to design their meeting agendas and processes to ensure meetings achieve their stated outcomes.

To help overcome this, some of our coaches’ top tips for ensuring meetings and collaborative interactions are focused and high quality:

  • Be clear on the purpose and outcomes that must be achieved from the meeting and state these on the agenda. Is this meeting for the purpose of decision making, information sharing or creative/brainstorming discussions / workshopping?

  • Have a single purpose for the meeting – for example, brainstorming discussions should be separate from decision making meetings. Trying to do both at the same time can stymie good creative ideas due to pressure to make a decision.

  • Be discerning about who really needs to participate in the meeting as there are real financial and transaction costs to meeting participation. Leaders should treat time spent in meetings as seriously as they treat financial capital. Before organising a meeting, ask yourself: what’s this meeting for and who genuinely needs to be there to add expertise/input, assess options, or make decisions to achieve meeting outcomes? Can these outcomes be achieved without this person there?

Note: The above is also true when you receive a meeting invite - challenge yourself as to whether you really need to be there. What value are you adding, and will you have enough time to prepare to add this value to the meeting?

  • Be clear on what preparations are required by participants to ensure meeting outcomes are achieved and provide enough advance notice to participants to complete their preparations.

  • Design agendas with topics that will affect all participants in the room and ensure there is efficient but realistic amount of time for each topic – don’t cram the agenda. It’s better to have two meetings than to shortcut necessary discussions or leave meeting feeling incomplete or let down.

  • Outline meeting process at the start and assign clear roles for each participant in the meeting – who is facilitating/chairing meeting, taking minutes, presenting advice or information, and who are the decision makers?

  • Make the last topic on agenda ‘Review actions and accountabilities’ and ensure a delivery date is agreed and documented.

  • End the meeting with a ‘reflect and correct’ session to encourage team feedback on the effectiveness and value of the meeting and how it can be improved next time.

High quality meetings can improve productivity, speed of decision making, and team morale to drive better performance and outcomes. Whilst these tips may feel like ‘something we should be doing anyway’, don’t underestimate the difficulty of implementing these so that they become the norm in how your organisation designs and conducts meetings.