The relatively common reaction to the modern business meeting is eyes glazing over and tons of productivity being lost. In fact, experts estimate that ineffective meetings cost American companies approximately $37 billion (with a b) every year. But it doesn't have to be this way if you spot why so many meetings miss the mark.

1. You can't let go of the idea that more is better.

Poor leaders often put many items on a meeting agenda. They rationalize that having a lot to discuss makes the meeting more important, or that it's less disruptive to call lots of people together for just one talk fest. This fits the way we've been conditioned to think that success comes from doing more than "the other guy", that we have to pack in more and more responsibility or tasks. But what really happens is that no one issue really gets the time it deserves. Everything becomes rushed, and you only skim the surface. Subsequently, deep, truly innovative ideas, solutions and decisions never get unpacked, and you're lucky if anything gets past simple discussion. Even if the items on the agenda are related, people usually have to sit through a host of information they don't actually have to be too concerned with or handle.

Instead, keep your agenda to a single item (and stick to it!). That agenda item should start with an action verb (that isn't just "discuss"!), so at the end of the meeting, you can ask yourself, "Did we or didn't we?" Dig deep into that one point until you have a next step to move forward with.

2. You go with the group your brain sees.

If you have half a dozen people on a team or committee, your brain naturally will come to associate them together as a group. Later, it can be hard to see those individuals as not connected, so you take a "just in case we need you" attitude to invitations. And because groups come with certain social expectations, you might be afraid that certain individuals will be offended by a lack of invitation, too. You call everyone in the group to the meeting even if only two or three really need to be present.

Always ask yourself who actually can contribute something to the meeting, rather than if they are merely associated. It's often the case that the team members who genuinely need to attend quickly can catch the others up to speed through other means, such as a quick group email.

3. You're stuck in Big Data mode.

Related to the first problem above, people tend to use meetings to share mountains of information. The underlying belief is that, if you're sharing data, it shows you've prepared, or that you are intelligent and needed for your skills and expertise. Technology makes it all the easier to keep up these appearances. But overwhelming participants with data means they're spending the meeting just trying to grasp your facts and figures and sort out what's most relevant.

The solution is to distribute a limited number of truly relevant, critical documents and other materials to meeting attendees well in advance to give people time to digest everything. This way, you start the meeting with the ability to use the most valuable information, rather than just share it.

4. You adhere rigidly to the standards instead of thinking about what the agenda needs.

Most people schedule meetings based on convenience in 30-to-60 minute slots. These chunks feel "clean" and manageable in terms of how they fit into everyone's daily schedule, and since we've done this forever, it's comfortingly familiar. But many agenda points don't need this standard, requiring what could be considered odd chunks of time.

Instead of scheduling unnecessary time that you'll inevitably fill with inconsequential chatter or unrelated items, skip the status quo and put only the time you'll need to accomplish your goal on the calendar. Strive for an ideal, but think realistically about how people required for the meeting tend to behave and interact when determining how much time to set aside. Be clear that you're not going to tolerate participants being late, and if the agenda requires 10 minutes or less, reconsider whether the meeting is necessary at all.

5. You think proximity alone leads to better connection.

Now, admittedly, the proximity principle of psychology says that people are more likely to develop a relationship with each other if they're close by, mainly because closer proximity encourages more interaction, and because people eventually start to see how those close to them are like them. This leads some individuals to call meetings with the underlying objective of making their teams more cohesive. But meetings don't really give great opportunities to establish learn about each other and establish trust. Instead, they're scripted toward deciding what to do (and who should do it).

The better approach? Carve out other events and activities where people can engage and have fun with each other on a more personal level. Assume that connection will improve through the collaborative work that subsequently happens together based on the meeting.

Published on: Jan 31, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.