Why Are We Bad at Meetings? - Blue Ocean Brain
Large group of business people sitting on a meeting in the office and having problems.
Large group of business people sitting on a meeting in the office and having problems.

Why Are We Bad at Meetings?

News — 3 MIN

The mention of meetings can cause a visceral, gut-level reaction in even the toughest of managers. Who doesn’t have tales to tell of The Meeting that Wouldn’t End; The Pointless, Recurring Meeting; or The Who’s in Charge Meeting? For many professionals, the feeling of spending too much time around a table instead of in the trenches can cause anxiety and a lack of focus that makes those same meetings even less productive. But like it or not, meetings are a reality in the workplace, so the question we must ask ourselves is, How can we improve meetings and use them to our best advantage?

4 simple tactics for good meetings

Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt recommends taking a few key steps in advance in order to keep your meeting on track.

  1. Have an agenda. Clearly identify the goal or purpose the of the meeting so that everyone in attendance is on the same thought train, and issues can be addressed without discussion going off into tangents. Eckfeldt recommends creating an agenda first off if one is not already available. What should an agenda include? In addition to the goal of the meeting consider listing key discussion points, the names of the participants, the start and stop time and the location.
  2. Facilitator. Put someone in charge who can shepherd the meeting, keep everyone on topic and make sure that everyone is heard. Eckfeldt recommends tapping a neutral party to oversee the discussion and keep the process moving forward.
  3. Time Matters. Start on time and end on time. If people trust that your meeting will be useful and timely then their commitment levels are likely to soar upwards as well. Eckfeldt maintains that his meetings start on time whether all participants are there or not. If timeliness is a problem, then some tough love may be needed. He suggests not allowing entrée to anyone who’s late. On the back end, Eckfeldt likes to conclude meetings a few minutes early. This provides a welcome breather to execs who have back-to-back obligations and shows appreciation for the team’s professionalism.
  4. Good Ground Rules. Being considerate of others’ time and opinions is important overall and especially within the confines of a targeted, brief meeting. By reviewing the rules at the start of each meeting you can reinforce the team’s buy-in and respectful approach to the discussion. When all participants feel involved in the meeting, then the opportunity for productivity and creative thinking is increased.

Finally, the coaching pros offer a reminder that the boss serves as an example. If you are the head honcho, then follow the rules and be timely. If a protocol is established and modeled, then there’s a much better chance of success company-wide. As Bruce Eckfeldt reminds us, “a fish stinks from the head,” so be the example. Meeting adjourned.   

Finding the balance

While some meetings are nothing more than weekly placeholders that seem to go nowhere, others try to be ultra-meetings and take on too much. Writing for Inc., Alison Davis recommends focusing on your desired outcomes and limiting them to one to three.

She gives a thumbs-up to the following reasons to hold a meeting:

  • to inspire and energize people
  • to create learning
  • to solve a problem
  • to brainstorm ideas

More: Davis recommends allotting one-third of the meeting time to interactive discussion. She distinguishes this from someone monopolizing the proceedings or who asks for questions without creating inroads for conversation. Do the legwork in advance so that meetings can be an exchange of ideas that spur action. That’s worth talking about.

Tip: Use the “parking lot” concept to indicate a space to put topics that need to be discussed but are not central to the focus of the current meeting. This allows for items to be set aside, with an agreed upon time to revisit them. But be aware: if the parking lot becomes more like purgatory, you’ll need to find a different option.