For managers these days, meetings take up the majority of the workday. If you’re a leader, chances are you have your fair share of meeting-related complaints. In fact, the Harvard Business Review claims that these complaints are actually supported by research when they say, 

“… meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. And that doesn’t even include all the impromptu gatherings that don’t make it onto the schedule.” 

Because managers spend so much time in meetings, it’s important to focus on your meeting culture to ensure that you and your team can engage in effective meetings that are results-driven and promote accountability. If your focus is currently on improving meetings, then you’ve stumbled upon the right blog. 

Why your meeting culture matters 

Your meeting culture matters because it hugely affects your employee engagement and sets the tone for how you and your team communicate at work. Your meeting culture also highlights how you operate as a company, in terms of collaboration, decision-making, and power dynamics. It is this dynamic that you create between you and your team members which is going to allow you to work more productively, efficiently, and effectively with one another so that you can achieve your business goals with more ease. If your meetings aren’t improving the work that you’re doing, then something needs to change. 

Characteristics of a great meeting culture 

Meetings have a clear purpose 

What are you and your team working towards achieving? Why are you meeting? What is the goal of the meeting? If you can’t answer any of these questions, then there is an issue. When meetings are objective-driven, they create an observable outcome. If they’re not, this meeting is not going to be a good use of yours or your teammates’ time. Be sure to set out a clear purpose behind the meeting and to include it clearly in your meeting agenda so that everyone is on the same page and understand what you’re all working towards. 

Pro tip

Use a meeting management tool like Fellow to create a collaborative meeting agenda to easily determine the purpose of meeting.

Efficiency is top of mind 

Discussions can be useful, but that doesn’t mean that a meeting is required. A meeting is meant to be efficient and to have tangible outcomes. In an article by the Harvard Business Review, they report: 

“We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”

Efficiency needs to be at the forefront of why you’re meeting. In order to determine if a meeting is worth it, look at timelines and due dates so that you understand the urgency of the situation and so that you ask yourself, is a meeting really necessary? 

Meetings have actionable outcomes 

Again, your meeting needs to bring forward action items that are assigned to specific individuals with specific deadlines. The whole idea here is to keep moving forward productively. In order to do so, you and your team need to ask yourselves what the necessary steps are for you to take after the meeting. Think about what needs to be accomplished before you can make it to the next stage of work, and ultimately, to achieve your organizational goals

Characteristics of bad meeting culture

Meetings without an agenda 

If you don’t have a meeting agenda, don’t meet. It’s honestly a better idea to cancel your meeting than to try to guide a completely disorganized discussion that has had no prior input from your team members. If you meet without an agenda, there’s no doubt that you’re going to go off track, lose focus and go over time. Instead, create your meeting agenda in advance with enough time to ask your team members to give their input as to what should be discussed at the meeting. 

People zone out while one person does most of the talking 

If only one voice is being heard during a meeting, then it’s not a meeting, it’s a presentation. Even in a presentation, without any kind of audience interaction, let’s be honest- it’s boring. People are bound to zone out of the meeting if there’s only one person guiding and contributing to the conversation. Make sure that you foster an environment where contributions, opinions and ideas are encouraged. Chances are, you’re going to be more productive and find solutions quicker when you collaborate. This is also going to strengthen your team synergy and communication. 

Meetings don’t end on time

It’s terrible meeting etiquette to go over the time that you’ve allocated to meet. It disrespects everyone’s time and says that the meeting is more important than any other responsibilities the attendees have. Regardless of what is achieved, always end your meetings on time. In the same insightful article from the Harvard Business Review, they share, 

“For one thing, time is zero-sum. Every minute spent in a wasteful meeting eats into time for solo work that’s equally essential for creativity and efficiency. For another, schedules riddled with meetings interrupt “deep work”—a term that the Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport uses to describe the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” 

8 Secrets To Improve Meeting Culture 

1 Make sure every meeting has a clear purpose 

Ask yourself, what’s the question you’re trying to answer at this meeting? What are you trying to achieve by the end of this meeting? If you can’t land on exactly why you’re meeting, then it’s probably not necessary. Without a meeting purpose, your discussion will be disorganized and lack focus. With nothing to work towards, it’s likely that this meeting will be a waste of time for everyone. 

2 Plan a meeting agenda in advance 

Always plan your meeting agenda in advance so that you can outline the most important topics to cover. For recurring meetings, use a meeting agenda template to save time and encourage attendees to add talking points in advance. This way, everyone’s opinions are being included and considered before the meeting has even taken place. This collaboration is extremely important to your meeting culture. 

3 Only invite the necessary attendees 

In an article by Hackernoon, they explain how important it is to appropriately scope for your meeting: 

“ Only the absolutely relevant stakeholders should be invited to the meeting. Optional attendees should receive the meeting results in an email, but often do not need to attend in person. In fact, these attendees could give input prior to the meeting for discussion.”

Remember that other stakeholders can simply read the meeting notes after the meeting has taken place.  

4 Make it a habit to start and and end on time

Punctuality is important for productivity. It’s unproductive to wait for other people to begin the meeting and it sets the wrong precedent. Likewise, it’s unproductive to end your meeting overtime, because it takes away from each attendee’s other responsibilities and duties. When you aren’t punctual with your team, it sends the wrong message and shows poor meeting etiquette, which comes down to not respecting your team members or their time. 

5 Start on a positive note 

Start your meeting on a positive note! The energy in the room matters and as the manager or leader, you set the tone. Lead by example and enter the room (whether in person or virtually) with good, positive energy, ready to have a productive and meaningful conversation. This energy is contagious and your team will both benefit and contribute to it, reciprocatively. 

6 Highlight key decisions 

Close to the end of the meeting, highlight the key decisions that have been made. This is going to help you and your team recall what has been discussed and decided on. It’s also a great way of clarifying decisions if they weren’t fully understood by everyone. This way, you can provide some justification and everyone can give their input as to why this is likely the best way to proceed. This reinforces the decisions and allows you and your team to gain confidence in them. 

7 Add questions and comments in the agenda 

Whether you have your agenda printed out, or on-screen (when appropriate), be sure to add your questions and comments in the agenda, under whichever topic your question or comment relates to. This is going to avoid meeting interruptions while ensuring that your voice is still heard. Many times, we have questions that are addressed as the meeting goes on. Whatever isn’t, you’ll be able to be specific in communicating what your question or comment relates to. 

8 Assign clear action items 

As we’ve already mentioned, tangible outcomes are necessary in any effective meeting. Make sure that you’re assigning clear action items to directly responsible individuals, with due dates. This way, you can keep track of what will be worked on before the next meeting and follow-up on each item’s progress the next time you meet. This ensures that your meetings are results-driven and fosters accountability

Parting advice 

When it comes to improving meetings, often, it’s meeting culture that managers need to focus on. Think about what kind of environment you want to foster for your discussions and what will help your team work the most effectively towards your goals. Better yet, be open to asking your teammates what they think would help create a better meeting culture at work and implement those ideas. Collaboration and communication is central to a strong meeting culture, so make sure that your team members know that their contributions are valuable and meaningful. If you’re working on improving meetings, be sure to revisit this article! If you found it helpful, send it to a friend or a colleague. We always love seeing you on the Fellow blog– until next time!