5 Common Meeting Syndromes and How to Avoid Them

Meeting syndromes cause unorganized and unproductive meetings. Learn how to combat them by following the expert advice from our #ManagerChats panellists.

By Hannah Sheehan  •   November 12, 2021  •   6 min read

The time has come for Fellow’s monthly #ManagerChats. This month, Fellow has gathered the best expert advice on common meeting syndromes and how to avoid them. 

According to a Harvard Business Review study, “Research suggests that of the 23 hours that executives spend in meetings each week, on average, eight are unproductive. Some 90% of people report daydreaming in meetings, and 73% admit that they use meeting time to do other work.” 

With almost half of the time executives spend in meetings being unproductive, it is clear that a solution is needed! So, keep reading to find out which solutions our expert panellists recommend to help save your future meetings…

What are “meeting syndromes”?

We’ve all experienced meeting syndrome. They are associated with dreadful emotions you feel when you hear the word “meeting”. But instead, the word “meeting” should make you think of words like “productivity” and “delight”. 

Also, according to the Harvard Business Review study mentioned before, “When managers assume that their meetings are going well, they are less apt to solicit feedback and seek opportunities to improve. As a result, frustrations that attendees commonly cite persist, leaving people disgruntled and disengaged.”

These feelings of being disgruntled and disengaged are the same feelings that meeting syndromes cause. And the two most common causes of these feelings are no meeting agenda and missing action items

So, let’s learn what our expert #ManagerChats panellists have to say about meeting syndromes and how to avoid them!

Why you should avoid meeting syndromes

Meeting syndromes result in wasted time, no progress/next steps clarified, and poor workplace culture. These unorganized meetings should be avoided at all costs (for obvious reasons) yet continue to persist because managers are unaware of how to avoid them or if they are even experiencing poorly run meetings. 

So, allow us to share 5 common meeting syndromes and how to avoid them to keep your meetings timely, productive, and to foster a psychologically safe workplace culture…

Pro tip

Many meeting syndromes, like no meeting agenda or lack of clarity, can be solved by using a meeting management software like Fellow!

5 Meeting syndromes to avoid and their solutions

1The “no purpose” meeting 

Nothing is worse than sitting through a meeting that has no purpose. These meetings are a waste of everyone’s time and ultimately result in no outcome. Therefore, it is important to ensure that all of your meetings have a purpose. 

To ensure that your one-on-one’s have a purpose, Moshe Isaacian, a Creative Strategist at Snapchat, recommends checking in on the project’s progress and goals to ensure that everything is moving along at a good pace. He also emphasizes the importance of a “gut check” on team members’ mental health and workload to ensure employees feel supported. 

Another great tip to ensure that your meetings have a purpose is to create a meeting agenda. If you have no talking points to add, then there is likely no reason to have a meeting. Remember, no agenda, no attenda!

Brett Reed, Startup Advisor for Talent in the 6ix, shared a reminder:

“Recurring meetings sometimes start out as a necessity, and then just become a habit. Make sure they continue to deliver value.” 

A good way to evaluate if your recurring meetings deliver value is by asking for anonymous feedback from the meeting attendees. 

2 Coming unprepared 

Attending an unprepared meeting is like attending an unrehearsed concert. The singer is off-key, the dancers are running into each other, ultimately everything that could go wrong… goes wrong! 

So, it’s extremely important to come prepared for meetings. According to Alejandra Cienfuegos, Notion Ambassador, writing down talking points and responsibilities in advance on your meeting agenda will ensure that you are prepared for your meetings. 

Cienfuegos also recommends using a collaborative tool, like Fellow, to include other meeting attendees in the meeting agenda creation, encouraging preparation. Additionally, Isaacian recommends encouraging meeting attendees to come to meetings with questions to foster preparation and collaboration. 

3 Open invitation

While being welcoming and inviting at work is a great way to foster work relationships, it’s not always a great approach when it comes to meetings. Overcrowded meetings result in a loss of productivity because quieter team members will oftentimes end up lurking in the background rather than being involved in the discussion. Overcrowded meetings also tend to be less engaging as there are so many faces to engage with. 

So, one meeting syndrome to avoid is an open invitation. Carter Gibson, Internal Community Management Team Lead at Google, says to “Determine ahead of time who makes the final calls, and leave it up to them if they need to either invite more people or ask their team more questions. That means smaller, more productive meetings AND more empowered owners.”

More great insight from Isaacian is to determine who is invited to meetings based on how important the information they contribute is, if they are going to learn anything, or if they will assist in the decision making. Once you’ve established this, you can use Fellow’s Meeting Guidelines feature set to help you ensure only the most essential attendees are in your meetings. If a meeting has more than 7 attendees, Fellow will send the meeting organizer a prompt to remove additional attendees, or mark them as optional. 

4 Avoid meeting distractions 

In a remote world, there are distractions all around us. Whether it’s our Slack notifications distracting us or the Amazon delivery guy dropping off our 100th package of the week, working from home can be difficult. 

So, it’s important to do everything you can to eliminate distractions. Kayla Isabelle, CEO of Startup Canada, says to keep meetings short and concise. Also, according to Isabelle, 

“Attention wanders when staff feel they’re not needed, or contributing actively. When you FEEL involved, distractions are limited.”

On the other hand, Gibson takes a different approach by suggesting that for some people, multitasking can help them focus; “Multitasking a bit actually helps me focus – especially if I’m writing down a point or thought related to the meeting.”

A final tip to avoid distractions during meetings is to create a meeting policy that outlines meeting best practices. For example, asking team members to turn their cameras on during meetings and contribute to discussion. 

Knowing what works for you is important. So, if you’re the type of person who gets distracted easily by notifications, turn off your Slack and other applications notifications. And, if you’re the type of person who benefits from multitasking, then multitask away! 

5 Throwing poisonous darts

Forbes compares throwing a poisonous dart to someone who is disrespectful in contradictions during meetings. But healthy debate is a sign of psychological safety and fosters positive collaboration. 

Thus, it’s important to encourage healthy debate during meetings. Reed recommends playing devil’s advocate by asking “Ok, so what are the reasons why this won’t work?” and “why couldn’t we just do X?”. He says that this role models positive debates. 

Gibson also encourages managers to correct rude behaviour in meetings, saying, “Culture is set in every moment of every meeting. If something goes against it, speak up. Especially if you’re a manager.”

New manager mistakes to avoid 

Mistakes are how we learn and grow, and they happen to the best of us. So, while it’s important to not beat yourself up over them, it’s also important to learn how to try and avoid common mistakes.

Here is some expert advice from our amazing #ManagerChats panellists to help you avoid some common mistakes as a first-time manager:

“Don’t be afraid to ask! Twitter is great for connections and asking a thousand questions! There will always be someone willing to help.” – Cienfuegos.

“Come prepared with an agenda, be transparent when you don’t have all the answers, but most of all, support your team who’s relying on you.” – Isaacian.

“Start with 1:1s! If you’re a new manager, don’t throw yourself in a big group meeting right away. Take the time to understand your peers/reports individually before you’re in a situation where people look to you to make a decision.” – Gibson.

“Earn your leadership every day – management is incredibly challenging and rewarding but remember that you have power and privilege as a leader. Be humble, human, and supportive as you aim for excellence.” – Isabelle.

“Be clear about what materials need to be read/reviewed before the meeting, and make sure they’re sent far enough in advance for everyone to do so.” – Reed.

Parting words 

Blatantly put, meeting syndromes bring no value to your organization. But following the expert advice given by our amazing panellists, you can start avoiding meeting syndromes and having productive and delightful meetings.

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