The Productivity Paradox of Well-Run Meetings

The dreaded “M” word. It invokes visions of unwanted commitment, a loss of freedom, and life-sucking boredom draining all of your energy. No I’m not talking about marriage, but an equally fear-invoking word –meetings.

For many of us, meetings are a waste of time. A veritable black hole where nothing really happens and we must fight to stay awake. We often have no choice but to attend and scream in agony to the office gods to save us from this torture. Don’t blame the meeting. Blame the organizer.

If used correctly, meetings are a valuable business tool. In the wrong hands they are a waste of time, but if designed with focus and purpose and, most importantly, well managed, meetings are a productivity booster.


How Well-Run Meetings Boost Productivity


We will discuss best practices in a moment, but first lets look at how short, effective, regular (but not too regular) meetings have productivity boosting benefits:

They Establish Predictable Patterns

Recurring meetings that happen at a specific time weekly, monthly, or at other regular intervals create predictable patterns staff can use to plan their activities. If they know that specific meetings are for making certain decisions or for providing updates, they know when the decisions will be made and when items will be reviewed.

They Reinforce Accountability Measures

Group and one-on-one meetings both help to reinforce accountability for delivering information, work products, and demonstrating progress on projects. If people know they have to report on progress in front of others they will work harder to make sure they can report that real progress is occurring on their projects.

They Eliminate Excessive Emails and Drop Ins

If you set the standard that meetings are for addressing certain issues and teach your team to reserve questions, decisions, and updates for those times, then you will ease the burden on your inbox and work time.

They Force Prioritization

Another side effect of containing certain activities to meetings and restricting the length of those meetings is that your team will have to prioritize items and focus on only the most mission critical concerns and tasks.


Best Practices for Leveraging Meetings (And Not Letting Them Take Over)

When it Comes To Frequency and Duration, Less is More

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review showed that people spend nearly half their workweek in meetings, which is double the amount of time spent 50 years ago. Much of the increase in time is due to poor planning and management. Its better to opt for less meetings and shorter meetings with a hyper focused agenda and purpose.

I’m a fan of the 15-minute daily huddle paired with an hour long focused meeting once a week. The daily huddle is to take stock of what’s on your team’s plate, their top priorities for the day and what resources they need to tackle them. The weekly meeting is to check in on milestones and progress and identify needs, concerns, decisions, and resources. If you are the leader of a large team, you may need to have multiple huddles and meetings, each with different departments/functional units. Breaking it down by functions or departments allows you to keep the meeting short and focused. Cross-functional and/or company wide meetings should happen less frequently, such as monthly or quarterly.

Severely Limit Attendees

There’s nothing worse than being asked to sit in a meeting that has nothing to do with you, so be sure to only invite the people who absolutely need to be there. If possible, keep it to single digit numbers (3, 5, 8). Once groups grow above 10 it’s easy for sidebars and too many opinions to derail the meeting and eat up valuable time.

Always Have a Clear Agenda and Purpose and Stick With it

Come to the meeting with a prepared agenda and purpose and do not stray. If important items or ideas are brought up, park them in a repository for “next to address” items and topics for future meetings. This way people know they aren’t lost and will get their own time when it is appropriate, allowing them to refocus their attention to the current agenda items.

Take Sidebars and Debates Offline

This is where most meetings derail and take up more time than necessary. If a relevant side bar or debate between 2-3 people develops, encourage those involved to meet “offline” so everyone else isn’t left waiting and refocus the meeting on what needs to be accomplished there and then.

Summarize and Define Action Items Before Closing

Too often we walk out of meetings not knowing the purpose or what happened, if anything. Before closing summarize what was discussed, what decisions were made, and any action items and responsibilities. Send out a typed version of this to attendees within 24 hours.

Get Updates on Action Items Before the Next Meeting

A big mistake many make is waiting for the meeting to get updates on action items. It’s always best to check in half way between meetings to see how action items are progressing. This can be done in the 15 minute huddle or functional meetings and does not require its own meeting. Reinforcing accountability for action items before the meetings shows that people are expected to deliver at the meeting and ensures that the next meeting will focus on progress and next steps, instead of rehashing what hasn’t been done yet.

The more action focused your meetings, the shorter they are and the more enjoyable. People don’t mind meetings if progress is happening. It’s when they digress into bickering, circular debate, and soapboxing that they become mind numbingly boring to the point of becoming physically painful. Be judicious and keep your meetings brief, focused, and purposeful to boost your team’s productivity.



Shennandoah Goodson

Shennandoah is the founder of 525 Principle. She regularly speaks and contributes articles on a variety of topics to outlets such as SXSW Interactive, Society for Marketing Professional Services, Commercial Real Estate Women, and numerous others.

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