At Work, Do your Meetings Matter?

Poorly run meetings can be very expensive, while well-run meetings are essential to getting people on the same page. Since many decisions are made in meetings, it’s extremely important to include the right people — and cover the right topics in the right way.

meetings matter

If an employee doesn’t spend a lot of time in meetings, they’ll feel like the meetings they do attend mean even more. Plus, their day-to-day is often deeply impacted by other meetings across the company.

Nationally, we have found that at average organizations, only 44% of employees responded positively to this statement: “Meetings at [this company] make good use of my time.” But at Top Workplaces, this positive response jumped to 67% — and some achieved 85% or higher.

Some Quick Fixes

  • Make a habit of setting a clear agenda beforehand and reiterating it as the meeting starts. At the end of every meeting, double-check that you were successful and clarify any action items or next steps.
  • “Check in” to each meeting by inviting each person to speak briefly, even if it’s just to say how they’re doing. This helps people get comfortable speaking up.
  • Don’t hesitate to double check if a recurring meeting is still necessary and cancel if it isn’t. On the other hand, if you don’t have the people you need to make the right decisions, don’t hesitate to see if they can join. Just make sure they have the right context if they do.
  • Introduce a “parking lot” (a lot of groups have different names for this) to place topics that aren’t pertinent to the meeting’s stated focus.

Big Picture Plans

The most impactful way to change meetings is to change the meeting culture. This could just mean encouraging everyone to consider the quick fixes listed above.

Other cultural changes include making sure meetings begin and end on time (or earlier!). Make it clear to everyone that it’s OK to decline or propose new times for any meeting with anyone. Leaders especially need to demonstrate these behaviors.

Some organizations set “no meetings zones” across their calendars to ensure a stretch of quiet time for everyone. It’s not right for every culture, but it’s worth a try.

What to Watch For

  • Many meetings can be easily replaced with a defined process or even a quick 1:1 conversation. It’s easy to fall into a habit, but remember meetings are optional.
  • Dominant personalities can take over a meeting. Sometimes adding a facilitator can help raise other voices and balance the conversations.
  • Ask for feedback on your meetings during your meetings. Remember that everyone — regardless of title — has some expertise to offer on any topic.

Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm that surveyed more than 2 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in 2019. Energage is The Washington Post’s research partner for Top Workplaces.

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