4 ways to hold more effective meetings

It’s estimated that the cost of bad meetings to UK businesses and public institutions is a staggering £58bn per year — yes, billion…with a b. And, what’s more that’s just the figure for the UK.

Aside from the staggering costs associated with ineffective meetings it can have personal consequences too. People get frustrated from going to poorly run, bad meetings. Attendees come away confused about the actions, the meetings can be seen as a way of slowing progress and they stop people from focusing on other work.


1. Agree the rules of the meeting before you start

Who is going to faciltate the meeting? What happens if you can’t get through the entire agenda? How are decisions going to be made?

Being clear on some of these basics can really increase the effectiveness of your meeting. If people understand how they need to engage and what’s expected of them it becomes easier for them to contribute to the meeting and they spend less time trying to ‘work out’ how to participate.

2. Take a strict approach to pre-work

Have you ever been to a meeting where you and 60% of other participants have turned up well prepared — you’ve done the reading, you’ve completed the pre-work. However, it’s clear that not everyone has. Suddenly you find that you’re wasting time at the start of the meeting getting everyone else ‘cuaght up’. Next thing you know you’ve wasted half the meeting recapping what most people already know and doing work that was supposed to be done already. It’s really frustrating.

If you’re going to distribute a pre-read or allocate pre-work for a meeting make sure that you do it and make sure that you communicate your expectation that everyone else does it too.

You’ve got two options here:

  1. Create an expectation that everyone does the pre-work or pre-reading — don’t spend any time at the start of the meeting getting those non-compliant members caught up. After attending a few meetings where they’re not able to contribute effectively it’s likely they’ll get the message

  2. Don’t allocate pre-work — you could also make the decision that all work happens in the room. Don’t even bother asking people to prepare for the meeting — just work collaboratively during the meeting

3. Create an agenda focussed on outcomes

There are two frustrating things that can happen with meeting agendas:

  1. You feel rushed through important items and therefore make ineffective decisions

  2. You don’t acheive everything you need to in the meeting because you spend too long discussing just one thing

In these situations it’s often because the agenda hasn’t been well designed. A good agenda should be focussed on outcomes not on inputs. This means that if you’ve finished discussing something before the time ‘allocated’ to it has elapsed you can move on. It also means that you can close down looping conversations. When there’s ‘still time’ to discuss a specific point people feel that they have a right to be heard — that’s not always necessary if an outcome has been achieved. You can simply move the discussion on to the next point.

4. Don’t feel obligated to have a meeting in the first place

Not everything needs a meeting. Before you decide to have a meeting make sure you have clarity on:

  • what decisions need to be made in the meeting

  • who needs to attend the meeting

  • how long you’ll allow the meeting to last

Unless you’ve got a good answer to each of these points it’s possible that you don’t even need a meeting at all. Could this all be resolved with an update email, a slack conversation or a quick, informal chat?

Making your meetings more effective can have a positive impact on the bottom line — you won’t waste as much money on poor meetings. It can also make your people more engaged and it’s highly likely that you’ll get more done in less time.