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Are Your Meetings a Priority - or are They Wasting Time?

By Daphna Wegner - December 19, 2019

When it comes to strategic planning, every organization will go about scheduling their meetings in a different way. Regardless, having scheduled strategy progress and project management meetings will remain essential to fulfill your organizational goals and objectives. For more on how to structure your meeting schedule following a strategic planning session: How to Improve Strategy Implementation with a Regular Meeting Schedule.

It’s no secret that time spent in unproductive meetings affects a company's bottom line. The problem is so prevalent that an entire cottage industry of meeting experts, productivity gurus and collaborative meeting tools has emerged to help teams run better meetings.

Improving the way meetings are run will certainly yield results. For many of our customers at Meetly, where we help teams enforce more structured meetings, simply providing simple meeting templates is enough to get employees to think about how they are running their meetings and whether or not their time is being well spent. 

But tools alone do not get at the root of the problem, which is that we spend too much time (and force others to spend too much time) in meetings that don’t concern us or in meetings that probably should even happen in the first place. 

Are you planning a strategic planning session?

Here are some great questions to ask your team first:


Why We Say Yes

If you and your colleagues have overflowing calendars, odds are your company suffers from a “meeting-happy” culture. Unfortunately, pro-meeting cultures are the norm, rather than the exception. This is partly because we’re social animals. Our ability to communicate and collaborate gave us an evolutionary advantage that biases us towards wanting to get together in groups and solve a problem (even if what we really should do is hunker down at our desks and work alone). 

Even when we know that attending a meeting will be counter-productive, it’s human nature to accept a meeting invitation, especially when you’re not sure if you really need to be there. There is a phenomenon called acquiescence bias, which is the tendency for people to agree when asked a question, especially when they are unsure of the answer. Perhaps this stems from an innate desire to get along with people and be liked, traits that are generally conducive to a positive work environment but not for reducing the number of meetings that go on.

Whether employees attend a meeting because they want to be liked by the people inviting them or because they don’t want to deal with the awkwardness of saying they don’t want to go, it’s important to recognize the unconscious social component of bad meeting culture.


How to Say No

Given these natural tendencies, it’s important for companies to promote a healthy meeting culture. You don’t want people humble-bragging about how full their calendars are. You want them thinking critically for themselves each time they receive an invite or send an invite – Why am I calling this meeting? Do all these participants need to be there? Does this meeting even need to happen?

One of the best ways to get people to start thinking critically about meetings (and about how they spend their time more generally) is to make a rule that every meeting must have an agenda. The way you enforce that rule is by letting it be known that anyone has the right – the responsibility, even – to decline meeting invitations that don’t have an agenda attached. Plus, they should also feel free to decline the invite if they read the agenda and determine that they do not need to attend the meeting.

This arrangement creates a virtuous cycle where meeting organizers are forced to think about what it is they wish to accomplish during a meeting and clearly articulate that agenda before the meeting starts. Not only before the meeting starts, but before they start to drag down other people’s schedules by sending out unnecessary meeting invites. Because organizers know that participants can – and should – decline meeting invites, they will be more judicious about who they invite. And if a superfluous or agenda-less invite does end up slipping through the cracks, the invitees can help keep the organizer honest by politely declining their invitation.


Tracking results

Increasing the number of meetings that have an agenda in your organization is one way of measuring improvement. But is having an agenda enough? 

Meetings are not in and of themselves valuable. It’s the result of those meetings that has value. The result may simply be greater awareness around a topic or consensus around a decision. But in most cases, there is some sort of artifact that is generated during or after a productive meeting, whether it’s a list of action items, decisions or a follow up survey to ask about how well a topic was understood.

A good general rule is that every meeting needs to result in some sort of action item(s), even if that action item is for someone to send a summary of the meeting minutes to the interested stakeholders.


In Conclusion

Here are the key takeaways for trimming the fat on a bloated meeting culture

  1. Get people to think critically about why they are calling a meeting 
  2. Empower participants to decline meetings they don’t need to be in.
  3. Require every calendar invite have an agenda attached to it
  4. Require each meeting to end with clearly defined action items


Is your organization planning a strategy session?

Here are a few reasons using a facilitator can help:


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