Pointless meetings – and how to avoid them

Avoid pointless meetings

“Meetings are a great way to fill my working day,” said nobody, ever.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a quick catch-up with a colleague or a regular team get-together – a meeting should serve a purpose and have at least a bare minimum agenda (and no, three bullets two minutes before the meeting do not qualify as an agenda). Otherwise the meeting is really just a waste of time that could be better spent getting on with “real” work, or even doing non work-related stuff.

In fact, if you added up all the time people waste in pointless or badly-run meetings every day worldwide, the cost would probably equate to the annual GDP of a small country, or an elite footballer’s transfer fee. Yet meetings tend to be organised with little appreciation for the fact that time is money. If you do a quick vox pop of your department to find out how much time they spend in meetings, then multiply that by their hourly rate, chances are you’ll be staggered by the invisible cost of getting your team round a table.

[Image from The Insider’s Guide to Better Meetings]

Average time spent in meetings
Many meetings suffer from a lack of clear goals and structure, making them more likely to go off topic, lose participants’ attention, and fail to result in decisions. And as this great parody demonstrates, conference calls are bad meetings at their worst. Take all the ingredients of a poor meeting, strip out body language and visual cues, add in background noise and distractions, and the result is chaos and confusion.

So what makes a good meeting?
Effective meetings don’t happen by chance – they share a common set of characteristics. We recently ran a survey and asked our customers what they think makes a good meeting. The key elements are:

  • a clear purpose
  • an agenda, circulated in advance
  • action items are assigned
  • decisions get made
  • action items are followed up

Our top tips for organising a meeting everyone will want to attend

Tip # 1 – Establish an objective, and stick to it!
Successful meetings have a clear purpose or aim in mind. What key decisions need to be made? What actions need to be taken during the meeting. If you can’t define what this is, you’re not ready to call the meeting!

Tip # 2 – Set an agenda well before the meeting
People need to know what to expect, so they can come prepared. An agenda will prevent the meeting from descending into a free-for-all. For smaller, less formal get-togethers, a handful of bullets covering the key points you want to address will generally suffice.

Tip #3 – Be a conductor, not a bystander
Running a meeting is like conducting an orchestra – you need to guide the conversation, maintain the tempo and ensure no single voice drowns out everyone else. Watch out for people who are being too passive – sitting back, fidgeting or checking email – as well as those who tend to dominate the airtime.

Tip #4 – Capture the content in minutes, not hours
Minutes provide a vital reference point for meeting outcomes that impact other activities or projects. Your notes simply need to record the essence of the discussion – ideas, feedback, agreements and decisions, next steps planned, action items and progress checks – to keep everyone on the same page.

Tip #5 – Get face-to-face without going place-to-place
Virtual meetings are great for scrambling teams across different geographies, but a lack of body language and facial expressions can result in miscommunications and misunderstandings. Choose an online meeting tool that includes HD video for a more natural and high quality face-to-face meeting experience.

 

Insider's Guide to Better Meetings

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About the author

Daniel Waas is Director of Product Marketing for the Communications Cloud here at Citrix. He’s a geek at heart who loves LEGO, sci-fi and the occasional video game if time permits. Despite these severe dating handicaps, he was lucky enough to get married and even luckier to have a son. You can connect with Daniel on Google+, LinkedIn or Twitter. More blog posts by Daniel Waas ››
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  • Jerry

    It sounds like useful tips but how would you deal politely with someone who regularly goes off topic, wastes valuable time but is essential for making key decisions and progressing actions?

    • Daniel Waas

      It’s a tough one. I’d probably try to catch-up with the person 1:1 so as to not expose them to criticism while an audience looks on. In the 1:1 maybe lead with how the person impacts you. Something like “Hey, I appreciate the ideas you bring to the table, but recently that’s made it hard for me to keep the meetings on topic. What do you think would be a good forum for tackling your topic separately?”

  • 10-12 Business Club

    Great tips in this blog post. I have shared it with our members as to use for their 1-2-1’s

    • Gemma, Citrix Interactions

      Thank you! That’s great to hear. Hope they benefit from the tips (and if they think of any others, they are more than welcome to add them here).

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