The Cure For Unproductive Meetings

8 min read • Jun 14, 2021 • Charlene Anderson

Have you ever witnessed an unproductive meeting? You probably have—time and time again. Perhaps the host showed up late, the meeting had no clear agenda, and the person who was supposed to be in charge had no control. 

And so you sat through the whole thing confused, not knowing what to say or do. The host rambled on and on about something of no importance to you—then people started speaking out of turn and tossing out ideas left and right. 

Everyone was talking over each other—thinking that their ideas were far superior to those of their coworkers. And without a clear action plan, no decisions were made and nothing of value was discussed.  

Finally, the meeting concluded without determining responsibilities and outlining the next steps for going forward. And you only took away one thing from the event—that the meeting had been a complete waste of your time.  

According to The Muse, not only do unproductive meetings cost time, but companies also waste $37 billion a year on them. The same study discovered that executives view more than 67% of meetings as failures. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about having productive meetings—where every idea is valued and everyone’s input is included. We’ll also uncover some bonus methods, adopted by some of the world’s top executives, to help ensure your meetings are successful. 

How Top Executives Approach Meetings

Many employees didn’t like attending meetings before the pandemic. Now working remotely has made things worse for workers, with some companies requiring their team members to sit through call after call on Zoom all day. How do top executives approach meetings? 

  • Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz, likes one-to-one meetings where employees set the agenda in advance. 
  • Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, brings a notebook with discussion points to every meeting. As the meeting progresses and topics are discussed, she checks them off her list. 
  • Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs liked to keep meetings as small as possible and limited them to only essential employees.  
  • Evernote cofounder Phil Libin brings a top-performing employee to participate in meetings. 
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk insists that attendees prepare in advance before coming to a meeting.
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to get people talking in open discussions during a meeting. 
  • VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk prefers to have short, focused 15-minute meetings instead of longer meetings that last 45 minutes to an hour. 

7 Best Practices for Productive Meetings 

Don’t waste your employees’ time. Their days are already full with enough tasks to complete, and sitting in an unnecessary meeting is a sure way to decrease productivity. Below, we’ve got a few tips on how to get the most out of every meeting you hold to ensure your meetings are effective and yield only the best and most productive results. 

1. Consider Online Collaboration Tools as an Alternative

Think of how many redundant meetings you’ve attended. Has someone ever summoned you to a meeting where the entire time you thought, “This could have been handled via email”?

If you ever find yourself scheduling a meeting just to make sure certain team members stay in the loop, chances are good you can replace that meeting by using a team collaboration tool. This option will allow employees to review only the relevant details at their leisure. They can also provide feedback if they choose to do so. Online collaboration tools don’t replace all meetings, but they are certainly the answer for unnecessary ones. 

2. Create a Meeting Agenda and Set Clear Objectives

Before you have your meeting, consider the purpose and set clear objectives. Decide before the meeting starts what you want to accomplish. Don’t wait until people assemble and start communicating with each other and throwing out ideas before you set the objectives. 

Consider the goals of your meeting ahead of time and write them down. Then create an agenda and include all the topics you want to discuss. This will help you stay focused. So if people start getting off track and throwing out random ideas, you’ll be able to reel them back in and refocus the conversation. 

3. Come to the Meeting With Solutions

Don’t wait until everyone assembles at your meeting before you throw out ideas. Try to come up with a set number of solutions beforehand—considering your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—and ask all the other attendees to do so as well. This will make your meeting more productive because people will come in knowing what to expect. 

Instead of coming to listen, employees will enter the meeting with solutions already in mind. Then, instead of bouncing ideas off each other, you will spend your time vetting ideas to see which ones are worth pursuing. 

Think of your meeting as a means of choosing a solution, not as a way to uncover one. Ask your attendees to come up with a certain number of ideas, like 5 or 10. Then, let them present those ideas at the meeting—along with the advantages and disadvantages of each one. 

This approach will give you a variety of options to choose from. After everyone presents their solutions, you can vote on the best ideas and open up the floor for discussion. 

4. Invite Only the Necessary Employees to Attend

Meetings are informational in nature. Their purpose is to decide on ideas and come up with solutions for a particular problem. You don’t need every employee to attend—only the ones most vital to the meeting’s success. 

When you create your meeting list and consider who to invite, ask yourself who needs to be in attendance. Who has the vital knowledge and important insights you know you need? Who will the decisions of this meeting impact? After you take those things into account, consider whose input you can do without. 

This exercise will show you clearly who should attend the meeting and who would be better off skipping out. It will help you ensure that your meeting is not a waste of anyone’s time. 

5. Encourage Open Discussion

Team meetings are events where everyone should feel comfortable contributing. So make sure you get input from everyone, from those who love to talk and throw out ideas to the more shy employees who don’t like to speak in front of everybody. Don’t succumb to the pressure to dominate every conversation. 

Allocate time in your agenda for an open discussion period. Encourage people to take written notes—and write down any questions or ideas they have. Then open up the floor and allow them to speak. 

You can still keep track of time and make sure one particular topic doesn’t get more attention than necessary. You just want to make sure all team members feel at liberty to speak up when they have something of value to say. 

6. Set a Definitive End

There’s nothing worse than a meeting with no apparent end in mind. Imagine how you would feel as a worker who had to attend one of your meetings. You’ve got customer service issues and a laundry list of other tasks to complete. But instead of focusing your attention on these more important things, you have to sit through a meeting where the host rambles on and on, and you have no idea when it will end.  

As you create your agenda and schedule your talking points, determine how long you will discuss each topic and allocate your time accordingly. You could even ask another employee to take part by helping you keep track of time.

Not only do you want to start your meetings on time, but it’s equally imperative to end on time. As you move through the meeting, pay close attention to how long each topic is being discussed and stay within your allotted time. 

7. Close Your Meeting With an Action Plan

In the last few minutes of every meeting, leave a little time open to discuss the next steps. Outline specifically who is responsible for carrying out each task and decide on the timeframe. These necessary measures will prevent missed deadlines, which can stall productivity and have a devastating effect on the whole team. 

An action plan ensures that there’s ownership—and it leaves no stone unturned. Clarify which team members will do what tasks and designate a person to step in, should someone be unable to complete an assignment. You can also assign another person to check in with everyone. This team member will help ensure the others complete their tasks. They’ll also keep everything moving according to plan. 

How to Make Meetings More Effective

Meetings are meant to boost productivity. They put everyone on the same page and bring people together to work as a team and accomplish the most challenging tasks. They outline objectives and show people the valuable role they play in your company.

To have an effective meeting, start by deciding what you want to accomplish beforehand. Set clear objectives as you create your agenda. Then, ask your employees to come up with solutions prior to the event. This strategy will help ensure your meeting doesn’t waste anyone’s valuable time. 

Charlene Anderson

Charlene Anderson is a conversion copywriter and founder of eliteb2bcopy.com where she works with service providers, SaaS companies, and e-commerce operators to produce copy that's data-driven, impactful, and engaging.