5 Quick Steps to Reduce the Time You Waste in Meetings

Meetings are much maligned, but I bet you hate them because you’re talking too much about the wrong things and not enough about the right things.

According to the website EffectiveMeetings.com, most business people spend about 25% of their time in meetings. These percentages get worse the higher you go up the ladder, with executives locked in meetings almost 80% of the time. 

I hear horror stories -- and sit through excruciating meetings myself -- in my role as a team effectiveness expert. Meetings are too long, too boring, too repetitive, too full of people…and so on.

I hate to tell you this, but it’s not the meeting’s fault. You need to rein in your meetings so they’re focused on the right issues. Here’s how:

  1. Revisit your team mandate and imperatives. [If you don’t have these, check out my blog series on creating team alignment.] Think about the role of the team and what you need to focus on.
  2. With that in mind, how many of your standing agenda items are “orphans” that don’t line up with any of your imperatives? If they don’t move you ahead on the most important team issues, you shouldn’t be spending meeting time on them. 
  3. Even if an item is advancing one of the imperatives, if it can be resolved by an individual or a small sub-group of the team, get it off the agenda. These issues are clogging precious meeting time.
  4. Now, are there any critical issues for the team that aren’t on the agenda at all? If your team is like most I work with, I’d guess there are at least one or two. Add agenda items and time to address the issues that are part of your team’s core mandate. 
  5. Use small sub-groups to work on issues and actions outside of team meetings. Have the sub-group distribute recommendations ahead of meetings, and then spend only as much time as it takes to discuss any issues and come to a decision.

These steps alone aren’t enough to take your meetings from soul-destroying to awe-inspiring, but you’ll feel a lot better about time spent in a meeting room if you’re talking less about what doesn’t matter and more about what does.

Start with this agenda spring cleaning, and I’ll provide more ideas on how to improve your meetings in future posts.