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5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Meetings Before They Even Start

Sophia Bernazzani
Sophia Bernazzani  |  July 12, 2019

Though they can be unpopular, meetings are necessary in the business world.

The best meetings are short and highly productive. Everyone contributes, everyone comes away knowing something they didn't know going in, and everyone is clear on what needs to happen next.

When it comes to bad meetings, we can often sense them before they begin. Prepared talking points feel redundant or moot, the virtual conference room is lagging, or maybe the mood in the office that day just feels off.

At their best, a bad meeting is a waste of time (and money). At their worst, a bad meeting can be detrimental to an entire work day. Often, we inadvertently sabotage our meetings before they start by being our own worst enemy. Whether you and your team are meeting in person or remotely, sufficient preparation is key, and easier than one might think.

How you're sabotaging your meeting

No one wants to be the one to sabotage a meeting. And usually, it's not something just one person does. It can be one minor thing or a bunch of ways combined to equal a meeting that is truly a waste of time, energy, and money. 

For more information on each of the above, keep reading. 

1. You don’t set an agenda

Failing to create a clear and succinct meeting agenda or forgetting to distribute said agenda to your team is a fast way to guarantee your meeting will go off the rails. Meetings should have a distinct purpose beyond being a status report, which can easily be handled by online project management software.

Unsure which one would benefit your meeting best? Check out our list of the easiest-to-use project management tools on the market.

View the Easiest-to-Use Project Management Software →

Create an agenda and send it to your team, giving them ample time to look it over and prepare themselves to contribute efficiently. When your team knows what to expect from you, they will arrive at your meeting matching your preparation with enthusiasm. As opposed to strolling in with premature trepidations about the necessity of the meeting.

Your agenda should include defined start and end times to ensure timely arrivals and prevent any watch glances and side-eyes that ponder, “How much longer could this possibly take?” Also, if they have not been established company-wide ahead of time, your agenda should include meeting ground rules. Don’t want people on phones or laptops during the meeting? Want to curbside conversations? The best way to solve a problem is to keep it from happening.

TIP: If the meeting that isn’t involved enough to require an agenda, it should take place over Slack or via email.

2. Your meetings don’t have a facilitator

Without a facilitator, it will be easy for your meeting to get off-track or run long, and without a clear vocal leader, the opportunity for interruptions or unnecessary chatter is higher. To save yourself (and your team members) the potential headache of a rowdy or stagnant meeting, assign a facilitator ahead of time.

Meeting facilitation combines a series of roles and tasks. For example, keeping people on topic, listening carefully to what everyone is saying so no one's points get lost, suggesting techniques for creative problem-solving, and supporting the group to address a conflict if it arises. Your facilitator needs to be aware of both the content of the meeting (what people are talking about) and the process (how the conversations are happening). This awareness helps a facilitator come up with effective ideas for how to help the discussion move forward.

Meeting facilitators can be particularly useful for remote or hybrid teams, as currently 54% of remote workers are excluded from meetings and brainstorming sessions. Facilitators can be useful tools to ensure remote team members are heard and an equal part of the conversation.

TIP: You and your facilitator should collaborate on creating the agenda so you are on the exact same page for the meeting and share expectations for your desired outcome. 

3. Your meetings fall at the wrong time or day

It may seem like a minute detail, but it is a simple meeting tweak that could make all the difference. Did you send out an airtight agenda ahead of time and you have a world class facilitator steering your meeting toward success, but somehow you are still not being met with the degree of productivity, creativity, or enthusiasm you expect from your employees? The problem with your meeting may come down to being as simple as the placement of the hand on the clock above the door in the conference room.

Studies show that Mondays and Fridays are the worst days for big meetings, as either employees are distracted by being groggy from the past weekend or distracted with anticipation for the upcoming one.

Breakfast meetings, even if you provide coffee or food, are not as productive as mid-morning meetings, so it is better to give your employees an extra hour to ensure they are functioning at their best.

Lunch meetings can be wonderfully productive if food is provided. Otherwise, there is a high possibility of your team being preoccupied with how they are going to fill their rumbling stomachs. Similarly, if you schedule a meeting for directly after lunch, prepare for the frustration of trying to communicate with a room of people in a sluggish post-meal rut. Mid-week and mid-afternoon meetings are preferred across the board. Here’s looking at you, 3:00 pm on a Tuesday.

TIP: Consider evenings when the office is quiet and sensitive information can be discussed without whispering for high-powered meetings. Just don’t overdo it -- even the bosses want to go home at some point.

4. You’re not using technology properly

From making sure there is a video link ready and working for your remote workers to cleaning up your slide deck, malfunctioning or suboptimal technology can derail a meeting quickly.

Although technology can be inherently fallible, there are ways to guarantee your meeting doesn’t have any interface speed bumps.

  1. If feasible, make time for a tech rehearsal before the meeting. Especially if any new applications or software will be implemented during the meeting. Even if no glitches are present during the rehearsal, taking the time to become savvy with the new tech will instill confidence and lead to a seamless meeting. Test out your video conferencing camera and your meeting tool to make sure everything will be ready to go.
  2. Talk it out beforehand with your tech team. Whether or not a tech rehearsal is possible, you should be discussing with your tech team in detail the technology you’ll be using in your meeting well in advance. Among other things (updates, connectivity flags) they’ll be able to notify you if any of the technology you plan to use in your meeting is likely to be problematic.
  3. Have a backup plan. This is key, especially if the tech you had planned to use is new or unfamiliar. Your backup plan can be as simple as printing out hard copies of the slides you were going to use in your presentation, or having separate audio on standby should your video feed to your remote team cut out during the meeting. Technology-based anxiety crops up when our performance is on the line, so preparing a backup plan will leave you with a clear mind and only positive meeting expectations.
TIP: Have IT on speed dial. They can provide guidance, assist you with alternative solutions, and lend their expertise during a tech crisis. For an especially important meeting or presentation, having an IT person in attendance could be worthwhile.

5. The meeting is unnecessary

There are few things more frustrating to an employee than sitting through an entire meeting waiting for it to become relevant or necessary. Especially today, in our increasingly technology led workplaces, to be required to physically attend an in-person, or remotely via video conference, the act of meeting can feel like a big ask and an intruding responsibility and interruption in the workday. Therefore it is on the employer or team leader to make sure each meeting is necessary.

There are times when meetings aren’t properly organized to succeed or are simply wasting employee time. For your meeting to be a necessary one, it should have all of these things:

  • Purpose. As quickly as business moves today, priorities are constantly being shifted. From the time a meeting is scheduled to it actually taking place, a lot can change and sometimes with that change the purpose of the meeting gets solved or made irrelevant by intervening circumstances. If you find creating the agenda for a meeting that you no longer know the purpose of or that is addressing an issue you know to be already solved, the meeting is unnecessary and it is time to shoot an email around the office to go ahead and wipe the meeting off the calendar.
  • Stakeholders. One of the most basic meeting practices is making sure that you’ve got all the necessary people in the room (and only the necessary people), particularly the primary stakeholders of the topic at hand. There are times when it can be tempting to move on without them if you get a last-minute cancellation, but you’ll just end up spinning your wheels. The only thing worse than the stakeholders not being there is them being present but rendered ineffective by lacking audio quality, a stuttering video feed, or a time-consuming download for a web conference. Make sure you’re using the best tools for your remote meetings for the most effective virtual meeting possible.
  • New Information. Unnecessary daily or weekly status updates and meetings-to-plan-other-meetings are the enemies of productivity. Sure, sometimes they can actually be effective, as with any practice, its effectiveness hinges on the dynamic between you and your team. However, these can often be reduced to “business as usual” updates. Once derailed from a task or focus, it takes about 25 minutes to get back on track, so make sure it’s worth it. Empower your team to either skip these emails if they have nothing new to report or simply send a quick email if there is nothing substantial to discuss.
TIP: Try a standup meeting with your team. These bursts of information are a maximum of 15 minutes long and everyone stays on their feet the whole time. As you can imagine, these meetings are brief and extremely focused.
Meeting Cartoon

Image Source: PGi

Run the best meeting possible

Arm yourself and your team with ways to avoid the meeting madness and start having only productive, efficient meetings with the right people in the right place at the right time. Many companies have experimented with a certain day of the week being “meeting free” to give employees a chance to catch up on work, write or code uninterrupted, and get caught up on work. With the right tools and planning, meetings have the ability to be creative, helpful opportunities to share opinions and conversations.

Interested in learning ways to further motivate your sales team? Check out these 11 meeting ideas to get the ideas flowing.

Sophia Bernazzani

Sophia Bernazzani

Sophia Bernazzani is the Content Marketing Manager at Owl Labs, creator of the Meeting Owl, a 360° smart video conferencing camera. She lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts, and when she's not writing about leadership and remote work, you can find her doing yoga or taking pictures of her cat.