Meetings can be more tedious than productive

My first job out of college was at a domestic violence shelter as an advocate. I loved that job and still appreciate all that I learned when I was there. One of my favorite parts of the week was the shelter team meeting. For one or two hours each week, we would discuss who was at our shelter, what their struggles were, and make an action plan of how to assist them. Working in social work is incredibly stressful. For one moment each week we got to sit down as like-minded women and brainstorm how best to help the people in front of us, there was something often stress-relieving about it. For many, though, meetings are torture. They are long, tedious, and sometimes pointless. 

    If I’m being honest, those meetings that I enjoyed weren’t actually that productive. Don’t hear me wrong — some of it was productive: we created action plans, we assisted each other in brainstorming solutions, and we shared resources. But in between all that was a lot of fluff, time spent complaining, arguing, rabbit-trailing, or gossiping. The rabbit trails were at times more prominent than the actual point of the meeting in the first place. Meetings are important and need to happen in the workplace, but maybe there is a way for them to fulfill their purposes more efficiently.

What dysfunctional meetings are costing us

    A study released in 2019 concluded that the cost of poorly led meetings will reach $399 billion in the US alone. Another study found that dysfunctional meetings poorly influence market share, innovation, and employment stability. How we do meetings is actually costing us money, and lots of it. Studies have also shown that managers and employees alike feel that meetings cause them to be unable to complete their work on time, requiring them to work late or on weekends. A dysfunctional meeting is not just stressful and boring, it is affecting our overall job satisfaction, our company’s innovation and financial gains, and takes away from the work hours we need to actually finish our tasks.

How can we change this? How can we make our meetings more productive and less time-consuming, allowing us the time we need to actually do our work?

4 tips to help improve meetings

    I received a few tips from my husband. He is the king of productive meetings. He works as a pastor at a small church plant and has never made our church member meetings longer than 45 minutes. I regularly complain that I would like them to be more exciting. I’ve also noticed he manages to do this with Zoom prayer meetings, Bible studies, and even church services. I’m not suggesting he is cold or controlling. I think the opposite may be the case. The people in his church trust him as their leader and feel comfortable with him as they would a friend. He can be depended on to make meetings enjoyable, but still productive. 

I asked him his secret and he shared a few ideas: 

  1. He is confident as the leader of the meeting.
  2. He knows the material that needs to be talked about in-depth.
  3. He provides a very short intro and ending.
  4. He decides on a time limit and tries to stick with it. 

My husband’s advice and the data from the studies on meetings align almost perfectly: stick to the agenda, come prepared, and focus on the important things. We don’t have to spend our entire work life in meetings, and the more productive meetings are, the less of them we need.