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Six Tips to Combat Meeting Fatigue

Death by Meeting

I am sure many of you reading this have been pulled into meetings where your only purpose seemed to be to warm a chair, or have endured what was supposed to be an hour-long meeting that turned into a marathon session. These types of meetings can at best interrupt your workflow and at worst leave you more confused than you were before the meeting.

Those of you nodding in agreement can take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Many employees report feel overwhelmed by the time spent in meetings. Research shows that executives spend on average 23 hours in meetings each week, according to Steven Rogelberg’s article, “Why Your Meetings Stink—and What to Do About It,” published in the January 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Having recently facilitated another round of team meetings for a client, my attention was brought to the fact that meetings are often seen as a major time-suck, draining productivity and dampening morale.  To be sure, there are times when meetings are necessary for brainstorming, making decisions, and more. If you are looking to get more out of your meetings it can be frustrating even figuring out where to start. After reading a slew of books and articles and participating in workshops, I began to see that strong leadership from meeting organizers is key to successful outcomes.

Here are some takeaways that you can use to run great meetings with your teams.

Work to include all voices.

Teams generally split into three groups:  those who are highly engaged, somewhat engaged, and not engaged at all. As the meeting facilitator, it’s all too easy to call on the highly engaged portion of the team. What are some techniques to get attendees to more actively participate? Try asking for a show of hands or use a survey app or 3×5 note cards to anonymously poll attendees, then share and discuss the results.

If you want people to speak up, show them that speaking up will be rewarding. Making a consistent effort to give credit and thank attendees for their contributions goes a long way to encouraging them to take part in the discussion. Leaders can also use body language to signal when someone is starting to dominate the conversation, writes Rogelberg. For example, shifting your gaze from the speaker and turning toward quieter attendees to indicate that you want their reactions is a subtle way to shift the dynamic and encourage full participation.

Know your audience.

Each person in a meeting has a unique perspective. Are you dealing with introverts? Extroverts? Those who need more time to formulate an answer? Knowing your audience will allow you to promote engagement and make your meetings more productive and—yes—enjoyable in the process. Make it clear at the beginning that you want everyone’s input and will be calling on individuals in an effort to make sure that no views are left unexpressed. Let people know that they can decline to speak if what they have to offer has already been covered.

Rogelberg suggests incorporating periods of silence to let people formulate their own ideas. Silent reading can be useful, for example, by asking attendees to read a proposal to themselves. This small investment of a few minutes can pay dividends—in the form of deeper understanding and engagement with new ideas, as well as more inspired and thoughtful discussion.

Take a moment to breathe.

Business moves at the speed of light. Before we finish one project we are on to the next. People at their core want to connect and feel safe. I suggest you conduct a “check-in” before every meeting to give people a moment to catch their breath. Examples of a check-in or icebreaker could be: “What is your favorite holiday and why?” or “Tell us something about yourself we might not already know.”

Create a shared vision.

As soon as the meeting starts, tell the team where and at what time you want to end. Make the effort to define your goals to provide the backdrop for achieving them. This might include asking others to suggest agenda items to increase ownership and promote engagement, suggests Rogelberg.

During the meeting, ask participants what they see as the next steps, who should take responsibility for them, and what the timeframe should be. After the meeting, send out an email capturing key discussion points, next steps, and task assignments so that everyone is on the same page. These action plans can be reviewed at subsequent meetings to ensure that team members’ efforts are aligned and people are following through on their commitments. 

Make sure the right people are in the right meetings.

Don’t feel obliged to invite lots of people. Although the question, “Why am I here,” might not be asked directly, it is important have a stated purpose for each meeting. Make sure there is a timed agenda with assignments prepared in advance, so that presenters can be ready when it is their turn. Compare the agenda to the list of meeting attendees.  The goal is to have the right people in the room at any given meeting. You might also consider asking attendees to join only the portions of the meeting pertinent to them.

Hold the meeting after the meeting.

Something I learned from an executive that had a reputation for holding successful meetings is to always “hold the meeting after the meeting in this meeting.” The result? Fewer meetings for the sake of meeting and a focus on actionable outcomes. Everyone should either leave with new tasks for their to-do lists, or a sense of being headed in the right direction with the tasks they are already working on. Keep in mind that a quick check-in can often be just as effective as a longer meeting.

Meetings can pose challenges while also revealing opportunities to advance your organization’s goals.  It is possible to continuously refine your meeting practices by soliciting feedback from attendees and engaging in honest self-reflection about what is working and areas for improvement.  As with most things worth doing, progress, not perfection, is the goal. 

To learn more about The Propel Group, contact us now.

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