How to make sure your meetings aren't a waste of time

Benjamin Kluwgant · 11 Nov

Internal meetings take up a significant amount of space in an HR manager’s work calendar. Here are some ideas that can help you keep those meetings efficient, productive and stimulating – ensuring that precious time isn’t wasted and business KPIs are met.

Whether they’re about business strategy, progress, team performance or to tackle specific business issues, meetings are there to help people within a business communicate with each other.

Anyone who has been to a productive meeting will tell you that it’s a great experience. Discussions are interesting, business progress is made, and the action points are clear. People feel accomplished and motivated after a solid meeting.

The issue is, meetings can also be serious time wasters. When they aren’t done right, they can cause people to feel a whole range of negative emotions towards their work, and sometimes, the business in general.

When employees are forced to attend low quality meetings on a regular basis, they end up dreading them beforehand, feeling frustrating during, and disinterested afterwards. These feelings then domino their way through the rest of their daily activities and a drop in motivation becomes inevitable.

Bad meetings also have a similar impact on the person who runs them – whether that person be a manager or team member. But, when managers aren’t motivated, the associated domino effect can be even worse (from a business productivity standpoint).

Not only does the manager end up feeling disinterested in their work due to the frustration of the unproductive meeting, but they can also end up taking out their irritation on subordinates who weren’t even part of the meeting – causing a vicious cycle of negativity throughout the entire workplace.

Other dangers of pointless meetings

Aside from the negative feelings that unproductive meetings cause attendees, organisers and potentially other employees to feel, there are also some practical problems that such meetings bring.

There are only so many hours in a day. When people are pulled into meetings, the time spent in the meeting cuts into their worktime. If the meeting is productive and increases productivity and efficiency, the worktime foregone is a worthwhile investment. But if the meeting turns out to be pointless – the business ends up losing on all fronts.

Unclear and mixed messages can also be a bi-product of poorly-run meetings.

Basically, meetings are important, but it’s crucial to run them well. The question is though, how does one run a good meeting?

Take a leaf off Bezos’ tree

Global technology giant Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, has accomplished a great deal in his life. He started the company in 1986 from room in his modest rental home and grew it into one of the biggest companies in history.

One of the few insights into Jeff Bezos’ modes operandi that he has shared with the public is the way he runs his meetings ­– and when someone like Bezos shares some of the strategies they use to stay productive, it’s probably worthwhile to tune in and pay attention.

Bezos follows three rigid rules when he runs his internal company meetings, and these rules are quite easy to adapt into all meeting types.

Rule #1: Reading time

Remember when you’d go to an exam and 10-15 minutes would be allocated for the reading of the exam paper? During reading time, nothing but the sound of turning pages could be heard. You might have psyched yourself up to sit the exam and entered the room ready to smash it ­– but before you were allowed to put pen to paper, you needed to sit down, take it easy, and simply read the paper.

Bezos mandates that quiet reading time be held at the commencement of his meetings as well. During that time, no discussions are held, and no pleasantries are exchanged – everyone sits and reads through the meeting agenda thoroughly.

Allowing for reading time at the beginning of your meetings gives everybody the opportunity to be brought up to speed so they can be present and feel good about the meeting’s contents ­– and, it gives everyone the opportunity to get into the right frame of mind for the upcoming meeting.

Rule #2: Eloquent agenda writing

When preparing a meeting agenda, common practice is for the organiser to prepare a page or two of bullet points, and sometimes a PowerPoint presentation with images, infographics, and you guessed it, more bullet points.

But, when sharing his meeting strategies, Bezos put a red line through those practices and rendered them counterproductive. Instead, he suggested that meeting agendas be written up like full essays, and PowerPoint presentations are left at the door.

By preparing a narrative for the meeting, reading time becomes more effective, the agenda and messages are clear, and there is less room for misinterpretation or mixed messages.

Without PowerPoint presentations, the meeting facilitator has no choice but to explain themselves in a way that everyone present can understand what’s being said – another way to lessen the chances of people dropping off in the middle and losing interest.

Rule #3: Intimate meeting groups

Ever been sitting at a meeting and thought to yourself, “why am I even here”? If you have, you’ll know what we mean when we say it’s an annoying spot to be in.

Bezos’ third rule helps prevent this from happening through what the 55-year-old billionaire likes to call the ‘Two-pizza rule’.

If two pizzas were to be served at your meeting, and the pizza isn’t enough to feed everyone their dinner – you’ve got too many people at your meeting.

By keeping meetings intimate, an energy of productivity can be felt within the room, everyone in the room knows exactly why they’re present, and if they do end up serving pizza, you can rest assured that you won’t go home hungry!