A recipe for productive and effective meetings.

Let us start with some statistics.
After Harvard Business Review, 182 senior managers surveyed in a range of industries:

  • 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work
  • 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient
  • 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking
  • 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together
  • Those numbers are shocking when you look at them as a pure data, facts without context. However, for those who have to participate in meetings at work, you understand where this is coming from and you are not shocked with the survey’s results at all.

    In (too) many companies, being at the meeting is treated as a synonym of being busy, but there is a huge difference between been busy and been productive.

    I used the verb "have to" in the above sentence on purpose, because for many of us it is not our decision to take part in countless and endless meetings. It is something forced on us and it looks like not many managers care if our presence would bring any benefits to the meeting itself, not even mention the company or ourselves. In (too) many companies, being at the meeting is treated as a synonym of being busy, but there is a huge difference between been busy and been productive. And meetings, way too often have nothing to do with productivity or efficiency. We all know the curiosum – “meeting about meeting” .
    In the 21st century, in the era of technology we are not using simple tools and solutions like an email or a phone call that could replace half of the meetings that has been organised.


    Of course, the other half of the meetings are important and necessary, but even they are conducted inefficiently, way too long, with too many participants; the whole mixture makes them boring and useless.

    There is a way to change it, to make them productive and even inspiring. It requires a good planning to invite only necessary participants, explain discussed topic prior to the meeting and request action from all the participants. Also, you need someone assertive to be a timekeeper. Agenda is necessary - clear rules regarding topic, duration, place, participants, and action required would bring clarity into meeting chaos.

    After 15 years of managing productive teams, and from what I heard from my clients, the best meetings are the short ones. It is natural, that we cannot keep our focus for too long, especially when at the back of our head we think of all the unread emails and a list of phone calls to make.

    So, keep it short and simple. Clear structure beforehand, ask your team to stand (yes, stand, not seat) if the meeting is planned for up to 15 minutes. This way everyone will talk "what is the point", of course inform what is the time for each topic or each participant. If there is a problem to solve, after explaining what the problem is, focus should be on solutions and not discussing what happened back and fort. Make sure that by end of the meeting, everyone knows what action is required from them and what is the agreed deadline for each action.

    My two favourite meetings are: a morning “big rocks” meeting and a weekly team meeting. “Big rocks” takes only few minutes, 5-10 max depending on the team size. Everyone shares what is their priority for the day and if they need any support. This way everyone knows what is going on and they can see links between their job and their colleagues that gives a chance for collaboration possibility.

    Weekly team meeting has its agenda that is updated by everyone on a shared drive the day we have a meeting. Then we give every team member 5 minutes to go through, and we have a timekeeper to make sure all the meetings go smooth.

    Team meeting’s agenda includes:

  • my wins (successes, improvements, progress etc.)
  • my lessons and what would I do different next time (lesson is the work, not failure!)
  • data important for the team and questions from the team to agree on a goal
  • priorities for next week
  • As a manager, I ask if the team needs any support. And this is a genuine question. I always explain that this is a safe space and they have right to make mistakes and to learn from them. As long as they learn from them, I am happy and they should be too, because they progress and grow this way. They can worry if they make the same mistake twice or even more times because it is a sign that they have not done their homework, which is dangerous in a rapidly changing environment.

    Do we ever prolong the meeting? Happens sometimes when after completing the agreed agenda, we start a new topic or talk about more personal things. That is the moment when anyone is free to leave the meeting and go to do what they feel is more important, and we all respect that.

    Every team is different, there is no doubt about it, however we all expect to be respected. So, please respect time of your team and your own. Learn how to conduct productive meetings. If you do not know where to start, ask your team what would be the most efficient way for them. You can learn a lot by listening to your team and being open to suggestions.

    If you need any further advice, drop us a line, we are here to help.
    If you would like to know how to be more productive, rather than busy ..

    ... we are ready when you are

    Ewa Adams - Business Consultant

    Ewa is a certified coach & business specialist with 15 years of international experience (Europe, Asia, Africa) in various sectors (construction & engineering, IT, healthcare, aviation, recruitment/HR). Her life's motto is “It always seems impossible until it is done”.