4 Simple Ways To Resolve Boring And Unproductive Meetings

Written by in Practices
- 5 min read

One of the biggest sources of frustration in our corporate careers was never-ending, boring and unproductive meetings.

And we were not alone. One study said 47% of employees complained meetings were the #1 time-waster at the office. 45% felt overwhelmed by the number of them, and $37 billion (!) of salary cost is wasted annually on unnecessary meetings in the US alone. Therefore, we thought it was a good idea to share best meeting practices from the world’s most progressive organizations.

The impact of bad meetings

The graphic below shows the painful outcomes of bad meetings. Clearly, to build more engaging workplaces, we need to change the way we conduct meetings.

Click the below image to see the full infographic as designed by TED.

article photo

Here are four simple practices we learned from visits to workplace pioneers around the world.

1. Appoint a facilitator

To ensure a smooth process, appoint a facilitator—someone to take care of things like time-keeping, making sure only one person speaks at a time, and guarding against hijackers (those who tend to dominate conversation).

The facilitator also ensures the correct conduct of the next three practices.

2. Start with a check-in round

At the start of a meeting, each individual gets a chance to “check in”. That is, everyone can briefly share his or her feelings before the meeting starts. In Holacracy (well known for its meeting structures), they use the check-in to “call out distractions and get present for the meeting“.

So how does it work? It can be quite simple. Ask a question like: “How are you feeling?”, or “What is going on for you that people in the room might need to know?”. An answer might be: “At the moment I am very tired, and distracted. My daughter is ill and I’ve been up all night because of it.”

The goal is to call out distractions, to connect, and to bring focus to the meeting at hand. It is not the time to get into discussions: only one person speaks at a time.

3. Do NOT build an agenda before the meeting

Many people say a clear meeting agenda needs to be set up and communicated before the meeting starts. Interestingly, many progressive organizations advocate the exact opposite. They let attendees build the agenda—in the meeting itself.

This ensures they address only current interests—not those thought important some time ago, and which may now be irrelevant. This is a huge help in keeping meetings as useful as possible, for now.

In Holacracy, so-called tensions are used as fuel for improvement. Tensions are defined as the gap between the current and desired states. As Holacracy describes it: “An example of a tension might be that your company has published a book, the sales are slow, and you’d like them to be higher. Another might be that a big client has expressed interest in your services, but you already have more clients than you have time to service.

One might label the first example as a problem, while the second might be seen as an opportunity. As far as Holacracy is concerned, both are “tensions” that need to be addressed”.

So how to build an agenda? (1) Let attendees name the tensions they want to address in two or three words (no discussions) and (2) have someone write them down. Each item then has one person who “owns” it (the person who put it on the agenda).

With the agenda established, it’s now the role of the facilitator to address the items one-by-one. The facilitator can simply ask the owner of the item: “What do you need?".  Don’t allow too much discussion on each item. Let the owner of the item decide when their needs are met. Then move to the next agenda item.

4. Close with a round of appreciation

Many company meetings are focused on problems (or negatives), and drain energy. The practices above support meetings more focused on improvements and actions, and less on sharing frustrations.

But there are ways to shake off any negative sentiment a meeting might arouse. We saw a powerful practice at Bucket List company Zingerman’s in Ann-Arbor, USA.

CEO and co-founder Ari Weinzweig explains how they use appreciation to boost positivity: “Every meeting always ends with a few minutes of appreciations. Appreciations can be of anything or anyone; in the room or not in the room; work-related or not; past, present or future. No one is required to say anything, but most people usually do.

This small systemic change has made a huge impact over the years. Think of it like ending a meal with a good cup of coffee. And because every meeting ends this way, most people return to their work world with positive feelings. Its regularity ensures we devote time and mental energy to positive recognition.”

Try and fail, but don't fail to try

More and more organizations are experimenting with practices like these—to eliminate an unproductive and frustrating meeting culture. They are small but tangible changes that produce significant organization improvement.

Why not start experimenting with your own team? Use some (or all) of the above practices. Find out what works for you. The data on today’s terrible meetings suggest we can only get better.

Written by Pim
2 years ago


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Replies (1)

Tree Bressen

Tree Bressen

In my (experienced) opinion, it's not a matter of ALWAYS build an agenda in advance or NEVER build an agenda in advance. It depends on the meeting purpose and type. For more insight, check out Lucid Meetings' excellent Periodic Table of Meetings at https://blog.lucidmeetings.com/blog/periodic-table-of-meetings.

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