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In Focus: Many work meetings are a waste of time. How do we fix that?

Updated: Mar 1

Our In Focus series of articles originally appeared in The Leadership Bulletin, a free weekly bulletin for leaders and managers. You can subscribe here.

Work meetings often feel important. They are an opportunity to showcase what we have done, hold others to account, and be held accountable ourselves. They feel like work - and important work, at that. But when did you last ask yourself: are our team meetings actually productive?

In too many organisations, meetings lack structure, over-run, or are simply a regurgitation of what happens every week. Such meetings waste time and sacrifice vital productivity. But how can we have better meetings? Here are three things to try:

1. Give meetings a clear goal - or cancel them.

When the pandemic struck, lots of meetings were created with the “repeat every…” button ticked. This made sense - it was a way for people to keep in touch when we were working from home, often for the first time. But now that working patterns are beginning to stabilise, it’s time to go through all of the meetings in your team’s calendar and ask “why do we have this meeting? Does it have a clear goal?” If not, the meeting may have outlived its usefulness.

2. Ask people to bring solutions, not problems.

Meetings can be a great way to collectively problem solve. After all, many minds are usually better than one! But there is much less value in a meeting when your colleagues turn up and hear about challenges for the first time. I recommend always sending out an agenda at least 24 hours before a meeting which includes a list of questions people should consider and be prepared to speak on. This will help your team bring solutions, not just problems, to meetings.

3. Schedule your meetings right.

A healthy working pattern makes time for different activities: individual work, responding to emails, meeting colleagues, etc. The most productive working days put these activities in the right order to reflect their importance and when we’re working at our best. When should meetings fit in? A lot of research suggests that afternoons are when employees’ energy begins to fall and it becomes harder to focus on intensive, individual tasks. Try scheduling your meetings for the afternoon, rather than the morning, and use them to re-energise your team for the remainder of the working day.