Hey, Let’s Meet on That!

By Bill English, Partner

The advent of COVID has significantly increased the use of video conferencing technologies, such as Zoom or Teams. Before COVID, if I had four face-to-face meetings in a day at four different locations, that was a busy day for me. Today with Zoom, I can meet 7-8 people each day who are in different locations – all from the comfort of my home office.

But the problems inherent in face-to-face meetings haven’t really changed. They’re simply compounded when we meet more often. One study found that we are, on average, attending 13 more meetings each week, though each meeting is, on average, 12 minutes shorter than our face-to-face meetings before the pandemic hit, according to this Harvard Business Review (HBR) study. These increased but slightly shorter meetings are also more taxing because each one is always “on camera” where we need to continue looking interested and attentive the entire time.

In order to make our meetings more effective, I’ll suggest we take a moment and go back to the “why” a meeting takes place, “what” you need out of it that you cannot get more efficiently through other means, “who” is really needed in the meeting and “how” you want attendees to feel afterward (worth their time/waste of their time).

There are some great resources out there on how to ensure you have an effective meeting, especially from HBR. Here are four of my favorites:

A few key takeaways from these reports say meetings are productive when...

  • People have a clear reason to be there.
  • Attendees have definite contributions to make.
  • The meeting advances core company priorities.
  • If it’s a standing meeting, it links to other meetings in a meaningful way.

Asked what they dislike the most about meetings, and for suggestions on how to improve them, attendees provided the following perspectives:

Complaint 1: “One or two people dominate the conversation and nobody does anything about it.”

Solution: Set the ground rules and stick to them.

  • Let the group know that you want broad participation and that everyone has a chance to contribute on each topic.
  • Ask for permission to call on people when you want to get more views into the conversation.
  • Tell people that you will not leave a topic if anyone still has something to say or ask.
  • Ask people to set aside technology (see below) and any other work and to focus on each person when they are speaking.

Complaint 2: “Most of our meetings are just passing along information that could easily be sent in an email. We don’t talk about real issues.”

Solution: As you prepare for a meeting, ask yourself these questions – then ask them again in the meeting:

  • What does this group need to talk about?
  • What are our vital initiatives; which are in jeopardy?
  • What do we need to learn?
  • What do we need to develop a mutual understanding about?
  • What are we losing sleep over?

Complaint 3: “No one is paying attention because they are on their phones or laptops.”

Solution: State up front and have everyone agree that phones and laptops are put away – notes can be taken on paper if needed. If conducted over Zoom or Teams, require people have their cameras turned on and pointed at their faces.

Complaint 4: “We keep having the same conversations because nothing gets done between meetings.”

Solution: Send out a meeting summary with task assignments, and then start the next meeting checking with people about completion of task assignments – aim for 85% completion rate.

One last note: the most productive meetings have fewer than eight people in them.

Meetings are here to stay and based on the trend data, increasing in frequency. So, make them as productive and focused as they can be. Engagement will increase, results will improve and participants will feel more appreciated—all of which feeds a healthy culture that helps retain and attract top talent.

Bill English, MA, LP, Partner, Platinum Group, works with family businesses and privately-owned businesses to resolve conflict, address leadership development and transform toxic cultures into thriving workplace environments.