Your Meetings Suck

Here‘s why

Quick! How many meetings have you been in last week? Now, how many of them were a total and utter waste of time? Congratulations. Your meetings suck.

Of course, you could continue sitting in these meetings. Bored to death. Playing with your phone or notebook. Checking your e-mails every 2 minutes because of reasons. Gazing into the void that is the Powerpoint slide projected on the wall. You could continue telling everybody afterwards how you knew from the beginning that this meeting was a waste of time and how you could have been more productive elsewhere.

But you’re not one of those people. You’re better than that. You value your time too much to let somebody else waste it for you. You’re meant for something greater. So grab that sonofabitch meeting by the neck and show it who’s in charge.

Here are 10 things wrong with your meetings


They are too long

Did you ever wonder why the average TED talk is only up to 18 minutes long? The average human has an attention span of about 10 to 18 minutes before phasing out. Crazy, right? We need a lot of glucose, oxygen and blood flow when we process new information. That’s why we feel exhausted sooner or later.

Use that knowledge to get the most out of your meetings. Keep them short. No, keep them even shorter.

A meeting should be 15 minutes, whenever possible.


They are not timed

So now that your meeting is only 15 minutes long, keep yourself accountable to it. Set a timer — yes, a real timer — and actually time it!

Set a 15 minute timer. When it rings, the meeting is over. Period.

Constraints fuel ideas and creativity. Psychologically, a shortage of resources sets you in an unwasteful and focused state of mind. That is especially true regarding time constraints. People will get more focused. Statements will be more specific. Meetings will get more efficient. (Or at least you’ll get out of there in time for lunch)

When the time is up, the meeting ends. No discussion. Any topic that could not be discussed or any decision that could not be made will be handled in a follow-up meeting.

If you’re asking yourself: “Well, if we handle anything else in a follow-up meeting anyway, why can’t we just prolong the first one while we’re all here?”, please read number 1 again.


They have no agenda

Okay. By now you’ve taken your first steps to become a meeting master. Your meetings are short and you are skilled at timing them. Good job!

But what is the meeting actually about? Why are we here? What do you want from us? What is your agenda? Of course you could explain all that within the first minutes of the meeting itself. Get everybody on the same level. But your meeting is only 15 minutes long.

Give your people the chance to prepare for the meeting. They need to know what it is about and why they should attend. Remember, time is precious to them as well. So write some information in your invitation. It should at least answer this question (we will add some additional questions to it later):

  • What is the topic of this meeting?

Done. Everybody can conveniently read it before the meeting as many times as they want and will be ready the minute the meeting starts. Begin your meetings stating the goal in one sentence, assuming everybody is prepared. Nobody wants to be the guy who is always unprepared so after a few rounds they will actually be prepared. Pinky promise.


They don’t promote results

Great! Now everybody knows what’s up and why they’re here. The topic is clear to everyone in the room. You start talking. People give their opinion. You agree or disagree. You talk a little more. Someone asks or states something off-topic. You discuss it. And before you know it the timer reminds you that you chatted for 15 minutes. Half the time you probably discussed something completely different than what the meeting was meant for. The result of the meeting? You … talked.

That’s cool and all. If your goal was to just talk. But was it? I’m assuming that in at least 98% of all cases that’s not your goal. You want to accomplish something. An agreement on a decision or on the next steps in a project you’re working on. A strategy how to deal with a problem or maybe even the solution to it. A working agreement or a signed contract. Whatever it might be, don’t let yourself be distracted from reaching that goal. Additionally, let everybody else know, what’s up.

Remember the agenda we talked about? Let’s add something to it. It should now answer the following:

  • What is the topic of this meeting?
  • What do you want to accomplish in this meeting?

Another advantage of setting a goal beforehand: If you realise mid-meeting that your goal cannot be accomplished right now — maybe because a decision cannot be made or some information is missing — you can instantly call the meeting off knowing exactly what you will need for your follow-up.


They’re not moderated

Once you get your goals straight you can actually work towards them. How? Moderate! You are in charge of the meeting. You are King for the next 15 minutes. Own it.

Whenever somebody wanders off-topic you can bring them back by asking yourself (and everybody in the room): “Are we still working towards the goal of this meeting?”

If not, readjust and focus.

Take notes! Write down any decisions made, action items, owners and due dates. What do I mean by owners? An owner is a directly responsible individual for a specific action item (next step, task). Doing this provides public accountability for an individual to ensure that the project or task got done, and it sends clear, organised instructions for the team to follow.

At the end of the meeting read out all the decisions made, and the action items and owners. This way you ensure nothing has been misunderstood and everybody knows what to do.


They don’t provide a recap

Meeting’s over. You’ve accomplished your goal and created a list of action items, owners and due times. Brilliant! You might be motivated and feel good about that productive meeting you just had. You might feel the urge to lean back and bath in the glory of probably the most productive 15 minutes of your day. But you’re not quite done yet. After you throw everybody out of the room it’s time to debrief your folks. Hit the ‘reply all’ button to your meeting and write down your notes of this meeting, what decision has been made and who’s going to do what until when. If necessary, create a follow-up meeting. Wash, rinse and repeat.

Yes, they know all of this already. They were there in the meeting with you. But let’s be honest. We’re constantly required to multitask and switch contexts all day long. Everybody is forgetful sometimes.

Anything written down somewhere for us to read up again later so we don’t need to remember it all day long is a great relief.

You’re giving everybody that relief. They might not verbalise it. But they will thank you for it.

You’ve got everything down when it comes to planning, organising and moderating a good and productive meeting. You go, girl! Now let’s work on the main reason for the downfall of grand endeavours and ideas such as engines running on hydrogen or QR codes: People


People only spectate

I don’t know why, but there are people in our lives that feel the need to be in every meeting, regardless of its topic and whether they have something to contribute or not. And all they do in these meetings is to sit there, spectate and occasionally state some obvious fact. Get rid of them.

Attending meetings is not a badge of honour.

Think about who you need in that specific meeting and why you need them. Only invite those people. The more people are attending, the less an individual feels accountable for the success and outcomes. In my experience, 5 people is the maximum for a meeting to be productive. So invite as few people as possible.

Let’s take another look at our meeting agenda and answer an additional question:

  • What is the topic of this meeting?
  • What do you want to accomplish in this meeting?
  • Who do you need to attend for the meeting to be successful?


People are distracted

There is yet another species lurking amongst us. Sitting in our meetings, distracted by their smartphone, barely participating. Don’t get me wrong. There are situations requiring you to have a cell phone on you. May it be to look something up or to have someone join the meeting remotely. But in most cases — no matter what the intentions are — it’s just a big distraction.

And it’s not only distracting them. It’s somewhat disrespectful to others. They’re creating the feeling that we are not worthy of their attention. Mentally, they’re not here with us in the room. They obviously have something better to do. So get rid of their phones!

  • 86% of your coworkers think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during meetings
  • 84% of your coworkers think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during meetings
  • 75% of your coworkers think it’s inappropriate to read texts or emails during meetings

One bold step — but an effective one — towards a cell phone free meeting is establishing a coat check. Put up a box at the door and ask everybody to put their phone inside that box. If they’re afraid of losing it, let them put a sticky note with their name written down on their phone.


People arrive too late

You’re holding 15 minute meetings. The last thing you need is people arriving late. Every second counts. Waiting for someone can be all it takes for the meeting to have no outcome.

Although we’ll probably never be able to get rid of all latecomers, at least we can facilitate our meetings to get rid of the most common reason for arriving too late: Other meetings.

Almost every meeting starts at :15, :30, :45 or :00. Almost every meeting ends at the same minute marks. How is it humanly possible for someone to attend to two consecutive meetings in different rooms without being late to the latter?

You can avoid that dilemma by simply shifting your meeting about 5–10 minutes. What does that mean in numbers?

Start times — :00, :20, :40

End times — :15, :35, :55

This simple tweak gives people the chance to switch rooms and still be on time. Nobody is rushed, your time box can live up to its true potential, and everybody is happy. Yay!


The decision doesn’t require a meeting

The last thing is arguably the most important one: If a decision doesn’t require a meeting, you don’t require it, as well. Just make a decision and move on.

That’s it. Simple. Elegant. Efficient.

I really hope you enjoyed this article. Any feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you. ❤