Meetings are meant to be a time for productivity. They’re useful for brainstorming, organizing projects, deciding goals, and presenting new ideas. 

If your meetings aren’t productive, you’re likely facing meeting challenges.

But don’t worry! Meeting challenges are common and easily identifiable, and there are many available solutions.

What are meeting challenges?

Meeting challenges are the misaligned, unprepared, or ineffective actions that make meetings, well, challenging.

Many factors contribute to ineffective meetings, like the level of preparedness, how time is spent during the meeting, and the technical aspects of the meeting. However, at the root of all meetings are people. Understanding how people plan, execute, communicate, and function around other aspects of their work environment will help you understand why common meeting challenges occur. 

We’re here to share 13 of the top meeting challenges that people most often face in meetings, and some quick solutions to help bring the next meeting into alignment.

Delightful meetings

Run well-organized meetings by using meeting agendas! Send an agenda in advance so attendees can better prepare and add to the discussion. Try Fellow!

13 types of meeting challenges and how to overcome them 

1 Meeting length

Challenge: Whether it’s a collaborative meeting or a presentation, long meetings mean participants will eventually lose focus, energy, or ideas. Especially in our virtual working world, it can be easy for participants to get distracted by other tasks when they lose interest, and eventually they may tune out of the meeting entirely. On top of that, long meetings take away from valuable deep work time.

Solution: Shorten meetings to under an hour (in most cases, preferably less). Some strategies to reduce meeting length include setting a clear agenda, identifying roles ahead of time, and allotting time slots for each topic. Giving the meeting 45 minutes instead of the typical 60 goes a long way to making time feel shorter without actually cutting much out.

2 Lack of preparation

Challenge: We’ve all heard (and probably said) it: “Which meeting is this for again?” It’s the undeniable way to know that your meeting is going to be filled with people who either don’t know what’s going on or don’t care, and this indifference makes it quite difficult to land on new ideas and solutions.

Solution: Preparing meeting materials ahead of time spreads participant awareness for the topic, generates interest, and builds confidence at decision-making time. A quick way to get employees engaged is by building a meeting agenda and sharing it with the team for feedback ahead of the call.

3 Technical difficulties

Challenge: Cameras, keyboards, mice, monitors, Wi-Fi, laptop, VPN… there are a lot of places where difficulties could happen when it comes to your hardware or software. From your monitor not being plugged in right to your laptop needing an hour-long update, these technical difficulties all take precious time away from your productive meetings.

Solution: While there’s not much you can do about the power going out or the Wi-Fi needing a quick restart, you can do a few things to stay prepared. Get into the habit of checking your audio and video before the meeting starts (and adding that screen background if you’d like one). Also, regularly update your computer as soon as it’s required, not just before your important call. 

4 Lack of clarity or purpose

Challenge: Not knowing how to clearly define your meeting’s goals; this lack of clarity will take away from your team’s productivity. Teams need a meeting plan with a specific goal or purpose that answers why the meeting is happening and what needs to be determined by the end of the call. This purpose provides direction and helps keep meeting conversations on track.

Solution: Remember, no agenda, no attenda. In other words, cancel any meetings with no agenda! It’s not worth your team’s time to join a meeting that doesn’t have a goal or structure. With no way to make meaningful progress through the call, you’re better off using your time on another measurable, productive task.

5 Too many talking points

Challenge: We only have 24 hours in a day, and the time for so many talking points in a meeting. A common challenge in meetings is that leaders underestimate the time it takes to thoroughly cover a topic point. Beyond the initial topics, leaders also forget to consider leaving time for subtopics, for clarification questions, and for planning next steps.

Solution: Keep the focus of each meeting simple. Break bigger topics into multiple meetings or narrow in on the important talking points. Ensure that you leave enough time to fully present, discuss, and close out each topic. Group size matters, too. Smaller meetings may be able to progress through points quicker, while larger groups may need more time to pass ideas around for each topic point.

6 Too many meetings

Challenge: Contrary to popular belief, meetings aren’t always needed. Too many meetings can actually decrease productivity by taking up excessive space in employees’ calendars and failing to allow opportunities for deep work. 

Solution: Meetings are best used for complex topics that otherwise couldn’t be discussed over the phone or by email. Project feedback meetings, new topic presentations, and employee reviews are great examples. But updates for minimal progress on existing projects could be better covered in an email or chat message.

7 Various time zones 

Challenge: Remote working trends now have employees from the same team stationed across countries, if not across continents. As a manager, it can be difficult to manage employees across multiple time zones. There is an added challenge when employees working in different cultures have differing working days, lunch breaks, or dinner times. 

Solution: Try an asynchronous approach to meetings! While working remotely, team members can benefit from asynchronous meetings, which allow them to attend at their own pace, at a time that is convenient for them. This approach is also great for busy teams that struggle to find open meeting time slots that work for everyone. 

8 Lack of employee participation 

Challenge: Lack of participation from attendees makes meetings boring. In presentation sessions, it can be difficult to generate feedback or questions about new topics. In brainstorming sessions, unengaged employees won’t contribute and ultimately will drain the creative energy in the session. 

Solution: Send an agenda in advance so participants can better prepare for the meeting. Engage a more senior employee by allowing them to take ownership over preparing the agenda and collecting this feedback, and engage a more junior employee by asking them for their feedback.

9 Off-topic discussions

Challenge: Mentioned previously, bigger topics need time to be broken down and discussed as each relevant sub-topic. When discussing these sub-topics, participants may unintentionally go off on tangents or redirect the conversation away from the meeting’s primary goal. This ultimately leads to a less effective use of time for all involved.

Solution: Following your agenda will help remind you what your priorities are for the meeting. Assign one participant as a time-keeper to manage the schedule you set out in your agenda. If important side topics arise, table them for another time using a parking lot.

10 Late start and end times

Challenge: This one seems like a no-brainer, but happens way too often. Technical issues, poor planning, and schedule overload can all contribute to a late start. Often, these disruptions can cause late endings, too!

Solution: Respect that everyone has a busy day ahead, and do your best to follow the schedule set out in your meeting agenda. Update and test your technical equipment ahead of time to limit likelihood of failures, and try to book 5-10 free minutes before your meeting time to get a glass of water and prepare for the call. 

11 Poor communication between meeting attendees

Challenge: It’s fair to say that not everyone will have the same approach to brainstorming, solving issues, or communicating. However, not aligning on the meeting purpose and schedule is an issue that’s harder to get around, and this can completely slow productivity.

Solution: Create a safe environment and foster healthy work relationships. If you have a new team or you’re having trouble deciding how to approach a meeting, try testing different methods each meeting until you learn what works best for your team.

12 Lack of accountability 

Challenge: It’s easy to stand back and point fingers when something falls through the cracks. Unfortunately, doing so leads to missed deadlines, unmeasured Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and miscommunication across teams. A lack of accountability comes from meetings that don’t have established action items or assigned ownership over each task.

Solution: Assign clear action items to project participants and establish clear guidelines for reporting KPIs (ensure they are doable, measurable, and relevant!) Beyond keeping projects on track, making participants accountable also keeps them engaged, which is another solution to #8 on this list.

13 Ignored meeting agenda

Challenge: While making the agenda gives your meeting purpose and structure, actually following the agenda is what keeps you on track and keeps employees aligned. Not following the meeting agenda can create confusion on meeting purpose, presents opportunity for distractions, and ultimately means that any pre-meeting planning (like agenda planning) was mostly done for nothing.

Solution: Understanding how to use a meeting agenda template can help guide your team in the right direction, especially if you’re new to building meeting agendas. Try out several templates with your team (in different meetings) to see which one works best.

Parting advice 

If you’re new to managing meetings or you’re trying to change bad meeting habits, we’re here to help! The golden rule here is to plan, plan, plan

And when you get these basics down pat, try looking at meeting contingency planning for when things don’t seem to go your way (despite all the planning).