Why Your Meetings Aren’t Working – And What To Do About It

Time is money, as they say. And chances are, you’re spending too much of both sitting in meetings. An estimated 25 million meetings take place EVERY DAY in the US. Executives say they spend more than 20 hours a week in meetings – and average about the same number of hours working overtime every week. Think these two facts are related? Of course they are!

Meetings are meant to be engines of productivity in the workplace. They themselves are not the problem. Directionless meetings, rooted in poor practices and unrealistic expectations, are the problem. In fact, your meetings might not be working for any number of reasons:

  • Too many participants or too many irrelevant participants
  • Participants become easily distracted and are rarely engaged in the conversation
  • Agenda was not shared beforehand, or may not exist at all
  • Difficulty arriving at action steps
  • Company culture exists that doesn’t allow for open, transparent communication

To be honest, this list could be a mile long. About 67% of meetings are thought to be “failures” for these and many other reasons. The good news is that with just a few changes, your meetings will become more productive, more engaging and more effective.

(HINT: none of them involve bringing donuts or fancy slide decks.)

  • “Does this need to be a meeting?”

Meetings should rarely (if ever) be held to merely share information. So before doing anything else, ask yourself, “does this need to be a meeting?” If you arrive at a YES, establish clear goals and desired outcomes for the meeting. Then pause, look at what you’ve written and ask yourself again, “does this need to be a meeting?” If you’re still at a YES, move on to #2.

  • Distribute the agenda and pre-work well in advance.

Requiring your team to do the pre-work is just…well, required. You simply cannot expect everyone to show up to the table and THEN dive in. Providing pre-work, data, reports, and reading material at least 48 hours before a meeting starts means that everyone comes prepared. And it means you’ll be more likely to leave with decisions and action steps.

  • Choose the right audience.

Meetings are expensive, so be thoughtful about who you invite. Participants should be able to uniquely contribute to the matter at hand. Try to invite the minimum number of people needed to achieve your goal. That said, strive to bring diverse perspectives, experience and knowledge to the table, especially if the purpose of the meeting is to solve a tough problem or brainstorm.

  • Engage and listen.

Choose an environment that avoids interruptions and encourages participation.  You’re there to engage your team, lead discussions, encourage innovative thinking and listen. You can build trust by asking questions that prompt deeper discussion, even if you think you already know the answer. Questions like “Why do we think that’s true?” or “How could we measure that?” demonstrate humility and curiosity, which sets the tone for the rest of the group.

  • Relentlessly drive to action steps or decisions.

You know what you want out of the meeting (see #1 on this list). Push for that decision or result so people can start to take action as soon as they get up from the table. Work hard during the meeting to keep the train on the tracks. Even if you’re not in full agreement at the end of the meeting, effective teamwork means trusting each other enough to rally behind the decision once it’s been made. 

  • Document and follow up.

Take notes, record decisions, drive and document action items.  Issue a summary of the meetings achievements, agreed upon action items, along with a timeline for completion.  Provide updates and progress, and finally hold your team accountable.

Stop working overtime and invest time to then save time for your organization! Focus your energy on the real elements that make for effective meetings: purpose, engagement, inclusion, and results.

The CFO Suite is a boutique consultative staffing and executive search firm specialized in management and executive level accounting and finance talent.  We boost the capabilities and capacity of your accounting and finance department, offering a unique ability to provide an integrated and comprehensive suite of services.