How to Improve the Quality of Work Meetings

by Bob Helbig

Four quick fixes, big-picture ideas, and what to watch out for

Work meetings. They’re essential to getting people on the same page. But poorly run meetings are inefficient, not to mention frustrating and unproductive. Given many decisions are made in meetings, it’s super important to include the right people and cover the right topics in the right way.

If employees don’t spend all day tied up in work meetings, they’ll feel like those they do attend mean even more. Plus, their day-to-day is often impacted by other meetings across the company.

Nationally, Energage has found that at average organizations, only 44% of employees responded positively to this statement:

“Meetings at [this company] make good use of my time.”

But at Top Workplaces where culture is an everyday priority, this positive response jumped to 67% — and some achieved 85% or higher.

So, what can you do to improve the quality of work meetings? Here’s what we suggest:

Quick fixes for your work meetings

  1. Make a habit of setting a clear agenda beforehand and reiterating it as the meeting starts. At the end of every meeting, double-check that you were successful and clarify any action items or next steps.
  2. “Check-in” to each meeting by inviting each person to speak briefly, even if it’s just to say how they’re doing. This helps people get comfortable speaking up.
  3. Don’t hesitate to double-check if a recurring meeting is still necessary and cancel if it isn’t. On the other hand, if you don’t have the people you need to make the right decisions, don’t hesitate to see if they can join. Just make sure they have the right context if they do.
  4. Introduce a “parking lot” (a lot of groups have different names for this) to place topics that aren’t pertinent to the meeting’s stated focus.

Big-picture ideas to improve your meetings

The most impactful way to improve your work meetings is to change the meeting culture. This could just mean encouraging everyone to consider the quick fixes listed above.

Other cultural changes include making sure meetings begin and end on time (or earlier!). Make it clear to everyone that it’s alright to decline or propose new times. Leaders especially need to demonstrate these behaviors.

Some organizations set “no meetings zones” across their calendars to ensure a stretch of quiet time for everyone. It’s not right for every culture, but it’s worth a try.

What to watch for

  • Work meetings that could be replaced with a defined process or even a quick 1:1 conversation. It’s easy to fall into a habit. But remember, meetings are optional.
  • Dominant personalities that take over a meeting. Sometimes adding a facilitator can help raise other voices and balance the conversations.
  • Forgetting to solicit feedback during meetings. Remember that everyone — regardless of title — has some expertise to offer on any topic.