Meetings, meetings, meetings. We all suffer from an overabundance of meetings. It seems to be our reflex whenever there's a bump in the road. "What do we do now? Let's call a meeting."

As Harvard Business Review reported back in 2019, however, meetings are often ineffective. Their deep dive into meeting culture is worth a full look, but this stat (highlighted from a TED study) stood out to me: 73% of those who attend meetings use the time to do other work.

Why? Well, according to the author of the HBR article, Steven G. Rogelberg, most meeting attendees are passive participants -- they just come to listen and observe.

Experience these time-wasters yourself? Here's how you fix them:

As I've written about previously, many "informational" meetings can easily be replaced by concise emails or a few well-worded chat messages. 

If, however, you feel the topic of the meeting will require interaction, a Q&A, or discussion, then set it up so that each participant is given clear guidance on how to engage. Don't just leave the floor "open for questions."

For example, if you need specific feedback, then include requests/questions in the meeting invite for people to consider in advance of the meeting. Let them know there will be a time when you'll ask for their input -- either as spotlighted commentary, poll responses, or chat during the meeting.

For example:

"Scheduling this meeting to discuss the recent request by human resources to create more inclusive culture-building opportunities across teams. Will present some initial ideas, but please come prepared to address the following:

  1. What current culture-building activities (team lunches, friendly competitions, etc.) do you currently engage in, and which are most successful?
  2. What new activities would work well for your team?

It also helps to reaffirm at the start and end of the meeting the value it offers to those attending. For larger groups, I recommend doing this by team/division/job type, so you can address several people at once.

A final note: Be proactive about removing truly unnecessary meetings from calendars. If you believe an in-person/on-camera meeting is critical, then close it with a "stoplight review." Ask everyone if they felt the meeting was a valuable use of their time. They can respond immediately with one of the three below:

Green ("Yes, and please include me in meetings like this in the future.")

Yellow ("Parts of it were helpful, but communicate core messages other ways if possible." OR "I'm just not sure.")

Red ("Not worth it; cut these meetings in the future.")

As we all know, meeting norms change from company to company. There are, however, ways to keep them as efficient and effective as possible, regardless of your industry. I think the steps above offer a great start.