Meetings are a way of life in business. They offer a chance to collaborate, share ideas, check on progress, share and work towards company goals, solve problems, improve performance and productivity, build teamwork, and so on, making them a key to success for all levels and roles. When managed successfully, meetings can be effective, moving the company and its employees forward. If managed unsuccessfully, they can be detrimental, decreasing the success of the company and its employees. It’s likely that we’ve all participated in both types of meetings.
Meetings, effective or not, take time out of the attendees’ workday. According to one study, 35% of employees surveyed spend 2-5 hours per day on meetings and calls, with 54% of employees sharing they spend over 30 minutes in each meeting. If these meetings aren’t effective, they can be an expensive drain on a company’s productivity, budget, revenue, and growth. Just how expensive? An estimated $37 billion per year based on one study.
Since time is money, here is some other interesting information to keep in mind when planning and conducting meetings:
As of research conducted in 2022, the individual median income in the U.S. is $44,225. Of course, this number is highly dependent on industry, experience, education, role, etc., but it is a good example to use for the purposes of this discussion. When we break this median income number down to an hourly number, each hour costs $21.26 ($44,225 / 52 weeks per year / 40 hours worked per week = $21.26/hour). If employees at any level in an organization are paid a higher amount, then that number would obviously be much larger.
Every hour your employees are working costs the company money, whether that’s working on tasks or working by attending meetings. Not only are employees paid a wage, but for non-1099 employees, the real cost of their wages is higher than their “actual” wage since employers are also responsible for paying other employee-associated costs (benefits, employment-related taxes, 401K contributions, etc.). All of these expenses can mean that each employee is costing anywhere from 1.25 to 1.4 times their salary or hourly rate.
The cost to have meetings dollars-wise can quickly add up both financially and in more employee-related ways. Meeting after meeting can be mentally taxing, but so many meetings equate to less time to actually work—to complete essential and necessary tasks, which can then result in frustration, the need to work overtime (which can drive up labor costs even more), and/or burned-out workers. And eventually, it can even result in the loss of high-quality team members.
It’s crucial for managers to understand both the importance of meetings and their potential costs to ensure that every single meeting is as effective as possible.
The 10 ‘Musts’ for Effective Meetings
So, what can managers do to plan and orchestrate effective meetings that will help their team achieve company goals and objectives and lead to a stronger team culture? Here are 10 rules to follow for effective meetings, and while some of these might seem obvious, it can be easy to fall into the ineffective meeting trap, so it never hurts to have reminders.
Rule #1. Don't have a meeting just to have a meeting. Even if it’s a meeting that’s traditionally been held in the organization, if it’s not necessary, skip it. COVID introduced what author Greg McKeown calls a “Zoom, eat, repeat” way of working, which has continued to be the norm in some organizations. However, unnecessary meetings can potentially waste time and resources, and they can also negatively affect employee motivation and teach poor time management practices. In place of an unnecessary meeting, use email, smaller group meetings, one-on-one conversations, and so on.
Rule #2. Always have an agenda. The agenda serves as the map for any meeting. Here are some tips for an effective agenda:
- Include a clearly stated purpose for the meeting. Oprah Winfrey, who we can all agree is exceptionally successful, starts every meeting by asking three questions: "What is our intention for this meeting? What's important? What matters?" These three questions can go a long way to effectively directing any meeting.
- Stick to the agenda but be flexible when necessary.
- Make the agenda collaborative, allowing others to add to it beforehand. Some organizations have attendees report on past action items briefly within the agenda before the meeting, which can save time during the meeting and allow further discussion to take place since everyone is already on the same page pre-meeting.
- Add action items to the agenda during the meeting, and make sure to tag those involved.
Rule #3. Stick to the purpose for the meeting. Take a Stand-Up Meeting as an example. These planning-focused meetings are scheduled at the same time every time (whether that’s daily, every few days, or whatever works best for an organization) and are meant to last less than 15 minutes. The purpose in many Stand-Up Meetings is for each team member to share three key pieces of information: 1) give a status update on what they’ve completed since the last meeting, 2) share what they plan to complete before the next meeting, and 3) discuss any obstacles they are facing. Any additional discussion should take place outside the meeting. While we’ve used Stand-Up Meetings as an example, it’s imperative that the purpose for each meeting is honored in order to gain as much from each meeting as possible.
Rule #4. Only change meeting times when absolutely necessary. With so many meetings already on the calendar, changing one meeting can create a domino effect of additional changes for other meetings or the need for employees to choose which meetings to attend and which to skip. If the needed team members aren’t in a meeting, the meeting can quickly lose its effectiveness, often resulting in additional meetings.
Rule #5. Encourage attendees to pre-read the agenda so everyone comes prepared. This equates to less time wasted trying to get everyone up to speed during the meeting, and it gives people time to formulate their thoughts and ideas before the meeting even begins, which is another time and resource saver.
Rule #6. Don't include those who don't need to be there. It’s better to hold shorter, more focused meetings with those who need to be in attendance than longer, multi-focused meetings with agenda items that might not apply to all attendees.
Rule #7. Start and end meetings on time. We’ve all probably been in a meeting that starts late and goes late, which can affect other meetings and infringe upon employees’ available time to actually work on projects. Starting and ending a meeting late also shows a lack of respect for others, which can create a negative atmosphere in the workplace and within the team. Once the purpose for the meeting has been achieved, don’t be afraid to end the meeting early. Everyone attending will appreciate the “extra” time they’ve been given to do their work.
Rule #8. Send a post-meeting email. This could include action items, who is responsible for completing each item, a brief synopsis of the meeting, and anything on the agenda that could be resolved via email instead of during the meeting. Since team members are coming from different perspectives and roles which could cause them to view things that happened during the meeting differently, this post-meeting email can help to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Rule #9. Create a safe space at all meetings. Meetings are most effective when everyone’s opinions and ideas are both heard and respected. If team members don’t feel safe sharing ideas and opinions, not only can the effectiveness of the meeting suffer, but the success of the outcomes and projects associated with the meeting can be negatively affected as well.
Rule #10. Choose meeting times wisely. Meetings are most effective when they are scheduled at times when team members are focused and energetic. For example, a meeting scheduled for 4PM on a Friday probably won’t go as well as a meeting scheduled in the morning or early afternoon. Whenever possible, it’s important to get to know your team well enough that you know the best times to hold effective meetings and when time blocks should be left for both the highest and lowest priority work. When meetings are scheduled at times when team members are mid-spectrum on the focus and energy scale, you’ll be giving employees the gift of working on projects when they’re at their best and not asking them to contribute effectively when focus and energy are at their lowest levels.
To learn more about this concept, we invite you to read Carey Nieuwhof’s new book, At Your Best.
Successful business cannot be run without meetings. That’s a fact. However, when meetings are planned and executed effectively, they can be a tremendous tool for both company and employee productivity, financial gain, and overall success.