Eight Steps to More Effective Meetings

Meandering or unnecessary meetings cost money, waste time, deflate morale and contribute to turnover—all the more reason to adopt these suggestions to run meetings more efficiently.

By Diann Daniel
Wed, September 26, 2007

CIO — There's nothing quite like the announcement of another meeting to evoke in employees a distinct feeling of dread. With most employees' time stretched thin with an already heavy workload, meetings can be seen as pointless time-wasters. Unfortunately, this is because many of them are. "The main thing people hate about meetings is that they are poorly run or don't accomplish anything," says Glenn Parker, team building consultant and author of Meeting Excellence: 33 Tools to Lead Meetings that Get Results.

Employees with a strong desire to accomplish work goals are especially negatively affected by meetings, according to Steven G. Rogelberg, professor of organizational and science psychology at University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He was lead researcher on a 2005 study of 908 employees on meetings published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. For those driven employees who are focused on completing tasks and achieving goals, meetings are an annoying interruption to their work and productivity; job satisfaction decreases as the number of meetings they attend increases. The study did find, however, that employees who are low in accomplishment striving have a more flexible orientation to work and actually liked meetings, presumably because meetings are seen as a welcome interruption, something that adds a chance to be social.

image of people in a meeting

In "The Science and Fiction of Meetings," Rogelberg (along with Cliff Scott, professor at the University at North Carolina, Charlotte, and John Kello,
professor at Davidson College) writes that ineffective meetings are especially harmful to corporations. Three different studies support the idea that the level of meeting effectiveness is the single most powerful factor in job satisfaction; the more time spent in bad meetings the greater the job dissatisfaction, and the more likely employees are to leave the company.

Unfortunately, ineffective meetings are the norm. All too often, employees walk away from a meeting thinking, "That was not a good use of my time, we just sort of talked a lot, and there was no clear purpose or outcome," says Parker, who leads effective-meetings training for various corporations. He points out that even when there is a clear purpose, meetings can easily move off topic or can be hijacked by someone only interested in seeming smart or pushing his agenda.

Research supports his assessment. A 2005 Microsoft survey of 38,000 people worldwide found that the average worker feels productive only three days a week. What scored as one of the top three time-wasters? Ineffective meetings. (Unclear objectives and lack of team communication were also in the top three, which suggests the common use of meetings as a communication tool is ill-founded.) According to the survey, people spend 5.6 hours each week in meetings, yet 69 percent of them feel that meetings aren't productive. Looking strictly at the United States, the number of employees who feel meetings aren't productive climbs to 71 percent.

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