Have you ever sat through a meeting and thought, "This could have been an email?". That's a sign of a bad meeting culture. Meetings are notorious time-wasters, but what if meetings could be productive, engaging, and even enjoyable? In our latest blog post, we explore why a great meeting culture is essential for any organization and offer practical tips for cultivating one. Say goodbye to wasted time and hello to more effective meetings!
While people are aware that bad meetings can waste a lot of time, few realize that it can also hurt your company culture—and hence, your bottom line.
Why should you care about your meeting culture?
Think of it this way: meetings are an expense, and like any other expense, you want to keep costs low and output high.
But more often than not, companies are having meetings that cost too much and contribute too little. In fact, noncritical meetings waste about $25,000 per employee annually and cost $101 million a year for large organizations according to a survey.
Research shows that executives today spend an average of almost 23 hours a week in meetings, and according to one study by Microsoft, 71% of meetings turn out to have no clear outcome and no productive next steps. Another survey of 182 senior managers by Harvard Business Review corroborates this statistic, also adding that:
- 65% said meetings keep them from completing their work
- 64% shared that meetings cost them the opportunity to achieve “deep work” (the ability to focus without distraction on cognitively demanding tasks)
- 62% believed meetings miss the mark when it comes to bringing the team closer together
This means that the modern executive dumps an average of over 16 hours a week into a black hole of unproductive meetings, which causes a ripple effect that interrupts their overall productivity, negatively affects their morale, and does nothing to aid in team building!
What does a great meeting culture look like?
The same Harvard Business Review study showed that changing your approach to meetings will have dramatic results beyond the conference room; improving your meeting culture can lead to a perceived increase in team collaboration and performance, psychological safety, and employee satisfaction.
A good meeting culture stimulates discussion, strengthens teamwork, and drives outcomes. Here are 5 hallmarks of a great meeting culture:
In productive meetings, attendees have specific roles and abide by rules like being punctual, respectful, prepared, attentive, and actively participating. This creates ownership and ensures everyone's effort contributes to success.
In a sales team meeting, for example, every attendee is accountable for providing updates on their progress toward their sales targets. They are expected to come prepared with a report detailing their accomplishments, challenges faced, and plans for the upcoming week.
An agenda outlines meeting topics and goals to keep discussions on track and focused. It ensures attendees are prepared and prevents unrelated topics that waste time. With clear objectives, attendees can ask relevant questions and provide thoughtful contributions, making meetings efficient and effective.
In a project management meeting, for instance, the team leader sets clear objectives and discussion points in the agenda to ensure that the meeting stays on track. This helps the team focus on the goals and objectives, minimizes distractions, and ensures that the meeting is productive and efficient.
Short and focused meetings are key to maximizing productivity. Research has shown that attention span and information retention drop significantly after 15-20 minutes. To combat this, meetings should be kept to a maximum of 15 minutes. Appointing a timekeeper helps keep discussions on track and within the allotted time, improving efficiency.
During daily stand-up meetings, for example, each team member is given a maximum of 2 minutes to update the team on their progress since the previous day, their goals for the current day, and any obstacles they are facing. Appointing a timekeeper helps keep the meeting efficient and ensures that everyone has a chance to speak. By keeping the meeting short and focused, team members can get back to their work quickly and remain productive.
Psychological safety is vital for productive meetings. Employees should feel free to express their thoughts without fear of retaliation or judgment. This allows for healthy debates and collaboration, leading to innovative solutions. Leaders can foster this by encouraging open communication and trust and modeling expected behavior. When employees feel safe to share their ideas, they contribute to the success of the organization.
In a brainstorming meeting, for instance, team members are encouraged to speak their minds and offer suggestions, regardless of how unconventional they may seem. The team lead creates a safe space for discussion by establishing ground rules for respectful communication and ensuring that no one is belittled or ridiculed for their ideas. This allows the team to work together to generate innovative solutions to the problem at hand.
Every meeting should end with a clear plan of action to ensure productivity and yield tangible outcomes. This includes understanding what needs to be done, who is responsible for each item, and their respective deadlines. This avoids misunderstandings and confusion and holds attendees accountable. By having a plan that outlines clear tasks and deadlines, meetings can be transformed from discussions into productive sessions that drive progress and move projects forward.
In a marketing meeting, for example, the team discusses strategies for an upcoming product launch. The meeting ends with a list of action items, such as creating a social media campaign, drafting a press release, and finalizing the product packaging. Each item is assigned to a team member, and specific deadlines are set. This ensures that the team is aligned on the next steps and that progress can be tracked in subsequent meetings.
Four signs of a meeting culture in trouble (and how to fix them)
Meetings aren’t the enemy—bad meetings are. But how do you know if your meeting culture is in trouble in the first place? Here are some tell-tale signs:
1. Your calendar is filled with meetings
If you’re a middle manager, chances are you’re spending 35% of your work week in meetings. If you’re in upper management, that statistic can go all the way up to 50%. That’s a lot of time to be taken away from work you need to get done.
Try having two blackout days a week where no meetings are allowed to be scheduled, or keep your most productive hours (like mornings) consistently free for you to focus on work.
And the next time you schedule a meeting, ask yourself if there is a more time-efficient alternative, such as an email, a collaborative Google document, or an open-ended poll. If face-to-face meetings are only scheduled when necessary, employees will naturally start to take them more seriously.
2. Endless meetings, without results
If a meeting ends without any clear outcomes or follow-up actions, you’ve just wasted your time – and everyone else’s.
Ensure your meetings are focused with a clear agenda, and communicate expected outcomes early so attendees can come prepared to work toward a common goal. A good formula to use is the Purpose, Agenda, Limits, and Decision framework, which can help you better manage expectations and capture actionable items. Tie everything up in a post-meeting email, where everyone’s responsibilities are indicated for clear accountability.
3. There are too many people at every meeting
Have you ever walked out of a meeting wondering why you were asked to attend at all?
Inviting the right people to attend a meeting is just as important as setting the agenda. Each attendee should have a role, whether it’s a decision-maker, adviser, recommender, or executor. If someone on your invite list was put there as a buffer or “just in case”, take them off.
One belief is that the recommended number of attendees for maximum meeting efficiency is between five and nine. Any more and productivity deteriorates. Google has a 10-person meeting rule that keeps invite lists lean and purpose-driven. Here’s a checklist to help you better manage your meetings, regardless of size.
4. Not everyone participates, just a few speak up
The biggest culprit of unproductive meetings is distracted attendees. In a study of meetings in America, 91% of business professionals admitted to daydreaming while 39% have even fallen asleep!
To tackle this, keep your attendees engaged with live polls, which can double up as a decision-making tool to vote on follow-up actions and next steps.
Meetings meant to solicit feedback, generate ideas, or innovate solutions also require that everyone contributes. But if you realize that some of your attendees are being drowned out by the loudest people in the room, using an egalitarian question-collecting tool like Pigeonhole Live can allow everyone to speak up equally—and be the key to unlocking your meeting’s full potential.
At the end of the day, employees need to see meetings as well-organized and productive, not distracting or a waste of time. Well-run meetings are where attendees collaborate, ideas get discussed, decisions are made, and tasks are assigned—in other words, where real work gets done.
Creating a great meeting culture
A great meeting culture can transform the way your organization communicates and collaborates. By prioritizing inclusivity, engagement, and productivity, you can create a culture where meetings are not just a necessary evil, but a valuable tool for driving success. Start implementing these tips today to cultivate a meeting culture that will make a difference. Don't let your meetings be a waste of time!