3 Ways to Increase Productivity in Meetings

The average office worker attends 62 meetings a month and up to 37% are valued as unproductive. Let’s try this again.

Negin Safdari
Feb 15, 2020 · 7 min read

ou probably spend too much time in meetings, and you more-than probably know it. You drag yourself from the conference room to the conference room as your To-Do list — and unread emails — pile up. If you’re an executive, you spend almost two full days every week in meetings.

Unnecessary meetings cost American businesses about $3.7 billion every year.

Fifteen percent of your organization’s collective time is spent in meetings. If your organization is 300 people and your average salary is $75K (to account for the director and executive pay), then every year you spend $3.4 million on meetings.

What’s your ROI on that $3.4 million back, or is this a cost leak in your business?

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Not to mention, most meetings start a few minutes late as everyone rushes in from their last meeting and wraps up their small talk. Beginning each hour-long meeting only 5 minutes late costs the company 8% of its’ meeting time. Would you waste 8% anywhere else in your organization? In our 300 person company example, that means $270K lost every year, only in the first 5 minutes.

If you want to calculate how much time and capital you’re spending on meetings, try this calculator. If you’re a public sector organization, try this.

Now that you’re sufficiently horrified at how much meetings cost you, let’s talk about how to increase productivity in them... or get you out of them.

1. Take responsibility if your team is multi-tasking

Up to 92% of us multitask in meetings.

Of those who multitask, 98% can’t do it well (shoutout to the 2% who can, though). We normally blame the multi-tasker because they’re the one's multitasking; clearly this is their fault? Yet, multitasking isn’t decreasing. Einstein would call us crazy, because we keep doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

Instead of pointing fingers at multi-taskers, point your finger back at yourself.

Do great speakers and leaders haggle their audience to listen? No, because they own their stage, exude strong stage presence, and stay engaging.

If you lead a meeting, perception checks those in the room with you. Are they engaged or are they distracted: are they on their phones or laptops? Are they showing anti-gravity movements or pro-gravity movements?

What are anti and pro gravity movements? Well, I’m so glad you asked.

Pro-gravity movement is when your audience is “dragged down” by gravity. Gravity pulls them down: they lean back, slouch, rest their head on the table. You do not want this.

Anti-gravity movement is when your audience resists gravity. They sit up, lean in, on the edge of their chairs. You want this, this is what engagement looks like.

If your group is pro-gravity, pause. What you’re doing thus far, is clearly not working. Please don’t keep doing it. Switch it up: change your tone, your pace, your volume. If you’re sitting, stand. If you’re standing, sit down. If you’re using a slide deck, don’t. Ask the group why they’re disengaged! If this is a trend on your team, have an open conversation about it and ask for their honest feedback. Then fix it.

Remember: changing your habits is easier than changing someone else’s habits. Take the onus, take responsibility, and be so good that your team wants to give you their full attention.

2. Make the damn decision — and avoid groupthink

A major purpose of meetings is to make decisions.

If you’re in a decision-making meeting, then your input is valued. Yet we often hear the same strong voices dominating the conversation and leaving little room for others to pipe in. On the other hand, sometimes when a decision is proposed, no one pipes in with critiques or challenges (despite thinking it!).

Ah yes, groupthink. If your team has high relational harmony or social cohesion, you’re vulnerable to groupthink. In other words, if your team members avoid voicing their opinions because they’re afraid to cause conflict, then you have a groupthink problem on your hands.

How do you avoid groupthink?

Pre-determine a devil’s advocate. This individual’s sole responsibility is to, as the name suggests, play devil’s advocate. They must point out loopholes in every suggestion. Why does this help?

Since everyone is aware of this person’s role, it opens the floor up for critical (yet kind) comments without fear of judgment. Members don’t feel offended when the devil’s advocate critiques their idea or decision because they expect it.

The devil’s advocate’s comment acts as a catalyst for further discussion: someone else may feel more comfortable building upon an already suggested critique.

3. Get your creative juices flowin’

Another main reason for meetings is brainstorming. If you or your team’s creative juices are running low, try this:

1. Change where you sit (and who you sit next to)

Research shows your seating arrangement impacts how you work with others. If you sit next to someone, you’ll work more collaboratively with them (you’ll agree with them more). If you sit across from someone, you’re more likely to debate them or engage in conflict.

We often view conflict as negative, but it can be beneficial. A healthy debate can spark new ideas or alternatives that neither individual considered before.

If you’re leading the brainstorming sessions and notice your team always sits next to the same people, switch it up. You’ll trigger a different dialogue.

2. Change the location of the meeting

Your environment impacts your creativity and decision making.

If you meet in the same room (or the same types of room, i.e. meeting rooms, boardrooms) week after week, try something new. Go for a walking meeting or try a coffee shop.

A change of surroundings excites your brain cells, increasing activity, and dendrite growth. More activity = neuro-connections = more creativity.

3. Bring in another perspective

If you’re an engineering team, bring in someone from business operations. If you’re a marketing team, bring in a product. Different perspectives trigger new questions, which then trigger new ideas. By doing so, you also reduce silos in your organization and increase transparency.

4. Change the time of your meeting

In Daniel Pink’s book When, he reviews the best times of day to accomplish various tasks. For example, mornings are the best time for highly analytical work and afternoons are best for creative brainstorming.

Of course, we can’t dismiss individual differences: switch up your meeting time to see when your team produces the best results.

Our outlook is even impacted by the time of day! We’re more positive in the morning, which peaks at noon and declines in the afternoon.

“Just moving an 8 a.m. earnings call to a 3 p.m. slot could translate ‘to abnormal returns of −1.5% a year,’ on average, a Harvard Business Review report said.”

Got bad news to share? Make it a morning meeting.

5. Sticky Notes

Say what?

Photo by Hugo Rocha on Unsplash

This is my favorite method to amplify creative juices.

In brainstorming sessions, shy employees stay quiet while outspoken employees dominate the conversation. Creative ideas mean different ideas, but if the same people participate in every meeting, unique ideas are hard to come by.

Sticky notes are a simple way to increase equity and give your quieter employees space to share their incredible ideas.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Get a stack of sticky notes, all the same color/size
  2. Allocate 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning of your meeting. Tell everyone to write one idea per sticky note — in silence — without letting their inner judgemental voice stop them. Just put anything down
  3. At the end of the 5/10 minutes, place every sticky note on the wall so everyone can see
  4. If general themes or categories begin to emerge, move the sticky notes next to similar ideas
  5. Review all the ideas, decide on the top 3–5, and work from there
Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

There you have it: 3 ways to increase meeting productivity. What we’re really doing, is valuing each individual.

We value their distraction and multitasking as a sign that we’re boring them, and we take responsibility for it. We value their unique ideas, critiques, and opinions, so we assign the devil’s advocates and use sticky notes to create a fair playing field. We change the meeting’s time and location to offer every individual a shot in their element.

By valuing them, we empower them to bring their best selves to the meeting.

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Negin Safdari

Written by

Passionate about communication, leadership and equality.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +785K followers.

Negin Safdari

Written by

Passionate about communication, leadership and equality.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +785K followers.

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