5 Ways to Make Meetings More Productive
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
I hate meetings. At Quatro, we have one standing meeting every week, but we only use the time if there is a pressing matter that requires the group's attention. Otherwise, we are a global company that handles all of our communications asynchronously through Slack, Google Docs, Asana, or email.
In previous jobs, though, it would not be uncommon to find my calendar looking like this:
According to the research, most people find themselves in similar situations. Every single day, there are about 11 million meetings held on average, with the average employee attending about 62 meetings every month. The average middle level manager spends around 35% of their time in meetings. For those higher up the corporate ladder, this figure can go as high as 50%. According to a study by Bain & Company, organizations spend about 15% of their time in meetings.
Scarier than these stats, though, is the content of these meetings. A recent study found that 37% of meetings are considered to add no value to the organization
As an organization scales, it becomes easy to fall into the trap of meeting-overload. In general, we recommend trying to avoid them, but sometimes, meetings are necessary. We've all been stuck in endless email chains or Slack threads that could easily be resolved by a quick meeting.
So when it does become appropriate or necessary to have a meeting, we have created some rules to ensure the time stays productive for everyone involved.
1. No Agenda, No Attendance
Getting a calendar invite out of nowhere is the worst. Your calendar represents your time, and there is nothing more valuable. But if you receive a calendar invite with a clear agenda, purpose, and goal, then at least you can make an informed decision about whether you can add value or whether it is worth your time. If the invite does not have an agenda in the description, politely decline and ask the owner for one, even it is coming from your superior. It can be tough to challenge your boss like that, but in the end, everyone will appreciate and respect you for it.
2. Don't be afraid to cut ties
Sometimes, you accept a meeting invite thinking that you might learn something or be able to add value, but then 10 minutes into the meeting you realize there is no reason for you to be there. In today's world, it can be easy to throw yourself on mute or even take yourself off camera and ride it out, then hear someone call your name and scramble to find the "unmute" button. Instead of finding "mute," go for the "chat" button instead and let everyone know that you feel like your time could be best served elsewhere, but feel free to call if you're needed.
3. Be on time. Start on time
When everyone was attending meetings in person, there was usually a plausible excuse for showing up late to meetings. It was still rude and unproductive, but at least you could theoretically blame a commute. Today, you have no excuse. If your schedule has back to back meetings and one is going late, take a minute to send a Slack or a text to the colleagues in your next meeting giving them a realistic expectation of when you will be free. Or better yet, tell your current meeting that you have a hard stop and need to jump. Either way, remember that by showing up late, you are telling everyone at the meeting that your time is more important than theirs.
4. Speedy Meetings
To help your colleagues stay punctual, utilize Google's "Speedy Meeting" setting. To update your default calendar settings, go to Settings > Event Settings and then click the checkbox for speedy meetings. This shortens whichever preset meeting time that you’ve designated by 5 or 10 minutes (depending on the time). So if you schedule a 30 minute meeting, it will block 25 minutes on the calendar, leaving 5 minutes between the end of your meeting and the start of the next. The most important part here, though, is to actually stick to the allotted time.
5. Two Pizza Rule
Amazon famously instituted the Two Pizza Rule, which is the simple idea that no meeting should be so large that two pizzas can't feed the whole group. We typically like to keep a limit of 8 people in any meeting that is supposed to be a discussion. Any more than 8 and you will quickly find yourself in a "groupthink" situation where nothing can get done.
These are rules we try to live by, because we're with you. Meetings are the worst. But using some of these tactics, maybe they don't have to be.