More than three quarters of workers (78%) say their meeting schedule is always or sometimes out of control. Pre-pandemic, the average employee attended 62 meetings per month and spent 4.8 hours every week just scheduling meetings. Working from home has made the problem worse. By the fifth week of March, the average worker was spending up to 25% more time in video conferencing meetings.
It also kills morale. Workers who feel they spend too much time in meetings report decreased well-being, increased fatigue, and increased subjective workload.
At the same time, meetings are necessary for successful teamwork.
How do we waste less time in meetings? The first step is for managers to identify which meetings are worth everyone’s time. Here are five types of meetings worth having, along with some tips for getting the most value out of the time.
1. Weekly team syncs
Our calendar data revealed that by the fifth week of March, the average worker was spending 25% more time in team-sync meetings. This was the biggest jump by far. While this is a lot of extra time, it makes sense that organizations would prioritize team syncs. That’s because well-run weekly team meetings offer at least three vital benefits. They can:
- Clarify every team member’s roles and top priorities
- Offer a place to communicate complicated or controversial ideas ill-suited for email or Slack
- Provide a place to offer public praise to team members, in real-time
To get the most value out of your weekly team syncs, don’t let them be status update meetings. That’s better suited to project management software or Slack. Instead, these should be team building meetings.
Set an agenda that utilizes the time to clarify roles and priorities, talk about things that aren’t suited to asynchronous communication channels, and/or boost morale and team cohesion.
2. Manager one-on-ones
We found workers were spending 24% more time in one-on-ones after shelter-in-place. Again, this makes sense because one-on-one meetings offer many important benefits. In fact, CEO and investor Ben Horowitz thinks one-on-ones are so important that he once threatened to fire a senior leader unless he started holding them.
For example, regularly meeting with your direct reports helps workers feel confident that they’re on the right track, boosts employee engagement, and offers you both a place to give each other feedback. A performance review should never come as a surprise. Regular one-on-ones, utilized correctly, help ensure that never happens.
To get the most value out of your one-on-ones, encourage your reports to set the meeting agenda ahead of time with topics to discuss. If there’s remaining time, ask open-ended questions like:
- What’s been on your mind recently?
- How are you? How’s life outside of work?
- What are you struggling with lately?
- If you had to pick one skill you want to level up, what would it be?
- What would excite you to stay with us for the next two years?
- How do you prefer to receive feedback?
- What do you wish I better understood about you or your work?
3. Decision-making / problem-solving meetings
Among the benefits of a decision-making meeting is that workers feel heard and included in the decision-making process instead of feeling like they’re taking orders. There’s tons of research linking a feeling of autonomy with job satisfaction, and job satisfaction with higher performance. A well-run decision-making meeting can be a huge win for morale and productivity.
How do you run such a meeting well? One way is addressing conflicts well. Research shows that groups deal with conflicts in one of three ways: avoiding the topic, fighting to win, or working to find compromise.
A University of Minnesota study found that teams which consistently approached disagreements with an eye toward compromise made better decisions than groups that used other styles or never developed a stable style. When you get to a point where team members disagree, try to find a good-enough solution that everyone can accept. This tends to yield better results than moving on to the next topic or letting team members duke it out until one person or faction gets their way.
4. Brainstorming sessions
According to Professional Development thought leader Brian Tracy, “Brainstorming builds involvement, commitment, loyalty, and enthusiasm.” He writes that brainstorming meetings unlock people’s creative talents, build self-esteem, and help create a better climate for cooperation and teamwork. “The most important payoff is that you will come up with lots of good ideas and sometimes ideas that change the direction of the business.”
Not everyone agrees. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” once called brainstorming sessions “one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity.” She quotes Organizational Psychologist Adrian Furnham: “Science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups. If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” Decades of research, according to Cain, show that individual workers nearly always come up with high quantities of better, more creative ideas than groups. And the bigger the group, the worse the outcomes.
This is true,in part, because people tend to go along with the group, a cognitive bias researchers call the “bandwagon effect.” Standing out is risky and painful. Disagreeing with the group activates our fear response. So, we tend to mimic and agree with the people around us, without even realizing we’re doing it.
Cain recommends getting around this fear response using technology. She says groups outperform individuals when they’re brainstorming electronically, rather than face-to-face. For better or worse, most people are much more comfortable disagreeing with others when they’re behind a screen. Rather than asking people to come up with new, creative ideas in real time together and risk rejection, ask your team to brainstorm by themselves. Then get together to discuss the merits of each idea in an innovation meeting. To reduce bias, you might consider anonymizing the ideas so no one but the person who came up with it knows whose idea is whose.
“Often we think of brainstorming as a way to come up with something original – that ‘aha’ moment,” said Joe Master, Executive Director of Marketing and Digital Strategy at Drexel University’s Communications Department. “In reality, it’s more about solving a problem.”
5. Project kickoffs
A great project kickoff can improve the working relationship between stakeholders while increasing the likelihood that a project will stay under-budget and on-time. This kind of planning meeting is a great way to decrease the likelihood of missed deadlines, issues, scope creep, and change orders.
There are a few things you can do to ensure your project kickoff is an effective meeting. First, create an agenda of key decisions you need to make, including the project’s:
- Likely effort
- Technology requirements
- Key dates and deliverables
Share it out well in advance so everyone has time to read it. To help encourage attendees to show up prepared, ask for their feedback on the agenda and any materials they should read ahead of time.
During the meeting, solicit helpful feedback and try to make everyone feel safe asking questions and sharing information early and often. Add good points or ideas you don’t have time to fully explore to a “backburner.” This way, the discussion can move forward but the information isn’t lost and no one feels dismissed. Be sure you don’t let disagreements go on too long or let anyone dominate the discussion. Lastly, be sure to follow up after the meeting with next steps and a summary of what was decided during the meeting.
The data shows we’re wasting a lot of time in meetings. To help clean up our calendars and increase productivity, we should identify the types of meetings that are worth everyone’s time. This way, we’re setting our teams up for success in both the short and long-term. We believe weekly team meetings, one-on ones, decision-making meetings, brainstorming meetings, and project kickoff meetings are the kind of meetings worth having, especially when done right.