5 Ways You’re Screwing Up Meetings (And How You Can Fix It)

I’m sure I’m not alone when I express my disdain for meetings. I hated them when I worked in the corporate world. I’m still not a fan despite the fact I work for myself. Of course, the main difference now is that I have more control over when and why I agree to participate in a meeting.

Meetings are supposed to be a helpful way for those involved in a project. They’re often a clusterfuck…and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. It seems that the only individuals who don’t agree are the ones leading the meeting or who really just don’t want to work. Why don’t we like meetings? Because of the 5 ways they’re screwed up by the people who plan and run them. My hope is that by highlighting these issues, you’ll be better prepared to assess whether a meeting is truly necessary and how to ensure it is helpful other than a giant waste of time and resources.

Meetings Are Often Way Too Long

The first primary issue with meetings is that they are often way too long. This can happen for several reasons. One primary reason is thinking that as the organizer or team leader you need a detailed update from every person in attendance. Not everyone works at the same speed. Not everyone has the same level of involvement on any given project.

Solution: Know who the key players are and whether they have updates to share. You’ll save everyone’s time and energy. Make sure those updates are important. You don’t really need to know about minor details such as how they opted to center the page numbers in the footer of every page or which entrance and exit effects they applied to every slide of a presentation.

Another key reason meetings are often way too long is because they’re not focused on just one topic. Unless you’re only holding a meeting once a quarter or you’re meeting with your business partner, your meetings should be about one and only one topic. When meetings are too long, your people will not engage with you. There will be more phone checking and texting than usual.

Solution: Do not talk about unrelated subjects or partially related subject. If you’re an agency and you ask a content writer how their “how to series” for ABC Widgets Inc., is coming along during a meeting planned to discuss ABC Widgets, don’t follow-up with, “While we’re talking about it, do you know the status of Puppy Corp’s logo? Did you talk to Jane about Kitty Co’s SEO strategy?” Your meeting is about ABC Widgets. That’s what people are there to discuss.

New rule: Meetings should never last longer than 30 minutes. Research shows that long meetings are a primary reason your team members or employees hate working for or with you.

A Phone Call or Email Would Have Sufficed

Sticking with the theme of how long meetings should last, let’s talk about those impromptu, short meetings that seem to occur every day or every other day. They eat up more time than you think. What you think should be a quick five or ten minute update often gets drawn out upwards of 30 minutes (and remember, people hate long meetings).

Solution: Instead of rounding everyone up, hunting everyone down, or making everyone wait until so-and-so shows up, ask yourself if you could the information you need by calling a key participant or emailing them. If you have Slack or another secured messaging platform, consider using it. This will help cut down on unnecessary waiting.

Meetings Eat Into Valuable Work Time

Remember that the 30+ minutes you take to hold a meeting takes away from office productivity. It’s not just the scheduled meeting time, either. Participants will:

  • Stop working prior to the meeting because they don’t want to be late or be at a rough spot in the work;
  • Not stop until they’ve reached a good stopping point which could make them late for the meeting…which then affects everyone else because you likely feel you can’t start without them;
  • Likely not be as engaged or mentally present in the room because they’re worried about what they’re not getting done;
  • Fall behind on other projects or daily assigned tasks. It won’t be their fault, but they’ll have to accept the blame and any consequences of it.

Solution: Keep your meetings short and less frequent. When you can, make them on a certain day, at a certain time. Don’t play calendar roulette and expect everyone to stay on top of their work while also attending meetings.

Inviting People Who Don’t Need to Attend

Inviting people who really don’t need to be part of the meeting eats into productivity of everyone. The people who aren’t involved lose work time. You lose meeting time if they have questions. It’s just a bad deal for everyone. Just because they work with or for you doesn’t mean they need to attend every single scheduled meeting.

When I worked in a law school, I managed the satellite law library while also working in the career services office. We were a very small office. The Associate Dean meant well by having me attend every single meeting she had with the career counselor and the “systemS adminstrator” (that capital S isn’t a typo…she would enunciate that S to make sure EVERYONE knew it was plural…and she gave herself that title…she couldn’t solve basic database issues; which back in the early-ish 2000s was important for just about any program one needed to use that was coded, but I digress). She wanted me to feel like I was an integral part of the team (I already knew I was; I knew what I did for them). Yet, anytime the phone would ring, I would have to go and grab it (we had this internal policy about doing what we could to not have voicemail pick up unless we were actually NOT in the office). The meeting would keep going in my absence and then I’d be asked questions about projects discussed…you know, whatever they talked about while I was on the phone. It was a giant waste of my time as far as productivity was concerned and a lot of unnecessary information on things I really had nothing to do with.

Related: Side Gig, Business, or Job: How to Improve Productivity

Solution: Think long and hard before you send out the calendar invite for the meeting. Only invite people who are involved in the project and make sure that it’s not taking away from their other projects or keeping them from meeting a deadline.

Too Much Information

I know I touched on this in other points, but it should be repeated. Most meetings are too long and are unfocused. They have too much information. Too many presentations that drone on and on is a good way to have your participants mentally check out and despise you because they’re bored and have other things they need to do.

Solution: Keep it focused. Have critical talking points outlined for ONE topic and ONLY one topic. Keep it short…your meeting shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes.

Just Say NO to Bad Meetings

If you don’t know how to properly hold a meeting, stay focused, and keep it short, you shouldn’t hold them. Doing so hurts you, your team mates or employees, and your profitability. Just say NO to bad meetings!

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