A practical guide to making meetings less painful and more productive
Whether you’re back in an office, hybrid, or working from coffee shops, the age of all-day, status-update meetings is over. Collaborative, asynchronous work is the new office reality, regardless of your industry or role. The pandemic reshuffled how many of us approach our work, from video meetings to messaging platforms like Slack to digital project management systems, and those tools aren’t going away.
As organizations struggle to redefine how work gets done, meetings - particularly poorly managed ones - are a top source of employee frustration
Meetings address a critical need of any organization or business: the need to gather. At Workhorse, we have plenty of meetings! We meet to brainstorm client strategies, co-work alongside each other, and dig into complex project plans. We aren’t suggesting you stop scheduling meetings, but that you think more strategically about why and how gathering together will actually accomplish your work goals.
In many organizations, meetings are just a time when a bunch of people show up to report on the work they’re doing outside the meeting. From the staff all the way to the board, people sit through 60 minutes or more of status updates that could be an email, a shared report, or a round-robin Slack thread. They leave feeling socially exhausted and stressed about their workload. If you’re a manager, have you ever done the math of how much time staff members spend in meetings vs doing the work that meetings generate?
A recent study claims workers now spend the equivalent of two full days a week on email and in meetings.
That's a lot of organizational time and money, so be sure that a meeting is the best way to accomplish your work goal, and that you’re only gathering the folks who are necessary for that goal to be well met.
Beyond effectively gathering the right people, you need to develop strategic administrative support to make sure that work before, during, and after the meeting is thoughtfully accomplished. Ideally, meetings should be used to actually get work done. Like:
Brainstorming about a project
Clarifying a process
Making a decision
Getting buy-in and working through disagreements
At Workhorse, we care almost as much about effective processes as we do about the actual work product. We work with clients to develop transparent communications, establish clear expectations, and set measurable goals that work for each person on the team, regardless of their neurotype, identity, or communication style. These are essential elements for any workplace and they help diverse teams work more effectively together. When we talk about creating a culture of belonging, this is what that looks like in practice.
So, how can you improve your meetings (read: improve your workplace culture)? Ask yourself the following questions as you plan:
1. What stage of the process are you in?
Figure out where your project stands and what you need to move forward. Are you ideating around something that doesn’t exist yet, like developing a new program or planning a new board strategy? Are you fixing an ongoing issue? Are you addressing a time-sensitive problem and making a plan?
2. What type of meeting do you need?
Now that you know where you are in the process, you can identify your stakeholders, your timeline, and your approach. Why do these people need to gather, and do they need to gather at the same time? Could this be achieved asynchronously (via Slack, email, or a project management system) or do you need to meet and discuss in-person/virtually?
If you decide to proceed with a meeting, plan your approach. Do you need to run a creative brainstorming session? A discussion? A presentation with Q&A? Check out Pip Decks for resources on how to plan a meeting to help you address whichever stage of the process you’re in.
3. What is the goal and what is the agenda?
You’ve landed on a meeting type and decided on your invite list. Now it’s time to clearly identify and communicate the specific outcome of the meeting. Include that goal and your agenda in the meeting invite, say it out loud at the start of the meeting, and return to it before you wrap up. You get bonus points if you share that goal and agenda with participants early enough that they can provide constructive feedback, so you can get them invested early and incorporate diverse perspectives.
4. Who will facilitate?
Even if you have a collaborative team and work in a consensus culture, someone needs to take or share the role of facilitator. That means setting expectations and managing the room when you have lots of different communication styles and personalities. Have a plan for how you’ll handle off-topic conversations, oversharers, and latent processors. And always, always, always try to end a few minutes early.
5. How will you communicate outcomes?
One of the most time-consuming consequences of meetings is all the internal communications work they create, both before and especially after. Managers have to share discussion points and decisions with their employees. Stakeholders might leave with wildly different interpretations of the decisions. A consensus you reached in the meeting needs to be properly documented, so people can refer to it later. Allowing folks to be privy to what a meeting was about and what the outcome was can help increase transparency in your organization, reduce angst, and increase efficiency.
Make a plan for how you’ll share meeting outcomes with your team:
Assign a scribe (this can be a rotating role to ensure equity) and clarify the level of detail the notes should have.
Reduce inbox clutter by creating a shared folder or Slack channel where folks can access related documents
Clarify to-dos for specific people or departments and document them in the notes