The Secret Behind Meeting Productivity

By | Posted August 28th, 2012

Meetings are often notorious for being too long and not very productive. But what causes this to occur? What is it about meetings that turn people off? Anything from the way a meeting is organized to how the company is managed overall can affect a meeting’s efficiency.

We asked Lindsay Andreotti, CEO and Secret Weapon of Brilliance Enterprises, what businesses should do to increase meeting productivity. She offered advice she’s pulled from her experience operating companies and teaching entrepreneurship at 4 different universities.

Invite the Right People

We conducted a survey of about 100 full-time employees, and 42% said they felt they didn’t belong in a meeting once every week. This points to a pertinent issue: Why are the wrong people so often invited to meetings?

“There are so many times that leaders in organizations think that everybody needs to be involved in something that doesn’t require everybody,” Andreotti said.

To her, the 42% statistic seems low. She’d put it more at 75% and says that if an employee who does work relevant to sales is in an irrelevant, hour-long meeting, they probably cost the business $5,000. In fact, this could apply to any employee who is in an hour-long meeting they shouldn’t be in once a week. And if this is happening every week, that’s a $260,000 cost a year for one employee.

Keep People Engaged

Inviting the right people is only step one. People can still become disengaged and not participate in the discussion, which lowers the effectiveness of the meeting. Keeping meeting members involved is vital, and according to Andreotti, one word can help you accomplish this: structure. Below are some key techniques to keeping your meetings organized.

Stick to the Allotted Time

Andreotti says there’s no need for a meeting to run over. Meeting times should always be set, and there should be an established consequence if the meeting does go longer than originally planned so that expectations are clear.

“Time is the new money,” Andreotti said, “and if you waste somebody’s time, you’ve wasted their money, and they’ll disengage.”

The ideal meeting length depends on the type of meeting you’re having. For example, she suggests check-in meetings be 10 minutes, task meetings be no longer than an hour, and informational/strategic meetings be anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days depending on how involved they need to be. However, the key is setting the expectation and sticking to it.

Assign Prep Work

Don’t let employees waltz into a meeting unprepared. Assigning some prep work that allows the participants to know what’s going to be discussed and therefore be ready to contribute. Andreotti says there’s a variety of work that can be assigned: researching a topic, reviewing a specific item, or contemplating what the ideal outcome of a problem would be.

Doing this is an invaluable investment. It eliminates the need to get everyone up to speed during a meeting, sets everyone on the right track, and keeps them engaged.

Other Techniques

There are several ways to enhance structure in addition to the ones above. Andreotti explains that clarifying goals and how these goals can be accomplished, setting the proper meeting expectations, and allowing for openness during discussion, are all major components of meeting productivity.

The latter carries a specific importance that will continue to be discussed in the next section. Having a one-way conversation — from the head of the meeting to the participants — is not an effective use of people’s time and the talent that’s sitting in the room. Active, free participation is necessary for a successful meeting.

Establish Healthy Company Culture

Openness in a meeting may be essential, but creating this sort of honest environment might be one of the most difficult things to accomplish. Why? Its roots form in company culture, so a potential problem could live outside of the realm of the meeting and in the way the company functions overall.

The No. 1 killer of meeting productivity is when a facilitator condones “bad behavior,” Andreotti said. She presents this example: Suppose a manager acts unprofessionally during meetings, but the facilitator does nothing about it. What is the outcome of this? Every meeting involving this person will not be productive at all.

Why does this happen? When someone like this hypothetical manager (who may even be feared by employees) sits in on a meeting, participants are too focused on satisfying that particular individual’s expectations rather than satisfying the expectations of the meeting.

“They can become a massive energy and time-sucking drain,” Andreotti said. “If being who you are doesn’t really produce cohesive relationships, then you have an issue of time and productivity. Most organizations don’t look at that stuff.”

She said this is a frequent occurrence, and the only way it can be solved is if the leader addresses it and doesn’t allow the manager-in-question’s behavior. The leader sets the tone, and the tone has to be one of openness. In fact, she said Generation Y employees wouldn’t function unless transparency was a cultural norm.

Conclusion

Several factors can hinder a meeting’s productivity, but keep in mind that an unstable company culture can be one of the biggest influences. Keep all of this in mind when scheduling meetings throughout the week, and remember this from Andreotti: