It is astonishing how much is being written about how to run effective meetings. Apparently they are not today? I decided to create a meta-analysis of the best advice I've seen so far. Let's dive in.
So you're trying to run an effective meeting? Likely you are fed up with the little value you feel you get out of them. Rest assured: you are not alone. In a recent survey we conducted for Rate My Meeting, only 27% said to feel productive in their meetings. Most (45%) feel like time is wasted. And yes, this correlates significantly with the size of the organization. With an average of 8.5 hours per week spend in meetings (~ 1 workday per week), that is a bad emotion to associate with meetings and thus your work.
Macroeconomics of meetings
We can safely say the majority of our respondents have a negative sentiment towards meetings. How about macro statistics? One research among 1,900 business leaders estimated that daily we run about 11 million meetings (US). And that number has gone up for 72% of the respondents in recent years. Half expects this number to increase further in the near future. Business leaders also feel (65%) that meetings keep them from completing their work, and that meetings are mostly unproductive and inefficient (HBR, 2017). Another research put a number on this ineffectiveness and estimated (2015) that organizations lose 37 billion USD due to it annually. Finally, some of the most admired business leaders like Musk and Bezos repeatedly emphasize the negative impact of meetings on productivity (CNBC). So yes: running meetings cost businesses money and hits both leadership and employee morale.
Use this Google Sheet to make an estimate.
This then must be a multi-million business I hear you think?
Well, it is, and it isn't.
Ways to improve meeting effectiveness
Okay, yes there are tools. There are tools to replace meetings (e-mail, Slack, Teams). But so far they do not seem to make a dent in the universe of meetings. They've become additional tooling. There are tools to facilitate meetings (Yabbu, Google Docs, Office), but their adoption for this exact purpose remains low. And then there are tons of articles and videos on how to run effective meetings.
To write this article I have gone through 7 academic articles, 13 expert blogs, watched 78 minutes of video. Below I categorize the top 10 findings for two key categories. The first category contains the things you as a meeting organizer should take care of. The second all the things that all attendees should feel responsible for during the meeting.
For you, as meeting owner
- Check that you need a meeting at all
- Be considerate about who is invited
- Share an agenda well before the meeting
- Follow-up on the next steps' progress
- Set a clear meeting objective
- Circulate actionable, "SMART" meeting minutes
SMART means specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely
- Gather feedback from attendees
- Choose a suitable environment
- Evaluate the necessity of recurring meetings regularly
- Reserve time for a round of questions & answers
For every one, as meeting participants
- Document your next steps, make sure they are SMART
- Respect timing, be on time
- Be inclusive of all attendees, really listen
- Document made decisions and their owners
- Respect the appointed facilitator
- Keep a parking lot, document out of scope items for later
- Obey the ground rules
- Prevent distractions: close laptop, mute your phone
- Propose to have the meeting standing
- Allow time for everyone to think, be patience
Measure how you're doing
Surprisingly, checking up how you've done on all of the above did not make it to the top of the list (#7). No suggestion was more often mentioned as 'have an agenda'. But what does that mean? What makes a good agenda? And more importantly: how do your attendees feel about the agenda you shared?
In my experience, different audiences and different meeting objectives require different approaches to all of the above. So make sure to ask for feedback on how you did in various setups. Our own research showed that a whopping 100% of the respondents felt that providing feedback can drive meeting effectiveness. And 91% said to be willing to provide that feedback. They said they are not always doing it today as there is no opportunity to do so (37%) or because they feel awkward doing so (24%).
So here is our approach to improve meetings:
- Use the lists above as a checklist for things to try and improve your meetings
- Ask for feedback on how you did trying the things you did
- Iterate and test different approaches with different audiences
From the list of resources I went through, these were some highlights.
- Running effective meetings: a guide for humans according to Atlassian, 2019
- How to run a meeting via HBR, 1976 (yes, a 1976 article!)
- Journal of Business and Psychology (volume 6, issue 3, 1992 and volume 24, issue 1, 2009)
- Run effective meetings according to Slack, 2018
- The Effect of Participation inDecision-Making in Meetings on Employee Engagement via UNOmaha, 2015
- Mind your meetings: Improve your organization's effectiveness one meeting at a time via UNOmaha, 2008
- Stop the meeting madness via HBR, 2017