Illustration of a sheet of paper titled 'The Meaningful Meeting Manifesto' with positive productivity symbols surrounding it

Ten mandates for meaningful meetings

It’s got much easier in the last few years to schedule everything from a quick call to a video conference, with teams virtually summoned at the click of a button.

But has convenience made us too trigger happy when it comes to scheduling meetings? Are we losing sight of the value of balancing focus time with collaboration? And is meeting facilitation becoming a lost art?

We polled 2,000 UK office workers and gathered shared experiences of UK office meeting culture to bring you ten mandates for running meetings that lead to meaningful outcomes.

1. Stop and think: can I cover this in an email?

More than half (55%) of UK office workers say meetings are stopping them getting work done effectively, and one way to prevent meeting overload is to stop and think about whether any given get-together or catch-up is necessary.

Got something to brief your teams on? An ad hoc update on a project to a client? Perhaps it could be covered in an email, or a quick one-to-one with the person that really matters. It could save your teams a lot of time.

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2. Think in-person first

Hybrid, flexible working may make scheduling in-person meetings more challenging. And organisers should factor in where people will be travelling from and whether the need for the meeting warrants attendees making long journeys.

But our research uncovered a big gap in the perceived outcomes of face-to-face vs virtual meetings. When asked what type of meeting they found the most productive, half (50%) said face-to-face in the office, compared to 24% that said virtual meetings.

In-person meetings are typically preferred for complex problem solving and relationship building.

3. Hold meetings between 9am and midday

We asked office workers what times of day they feel most productive in a meeting four in five (82%) agreed between 9am and 12pm was best. Only 10% responded with times after 3pm.

So, time can have significant influence on meeting productivity.

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4. Only invite the people you really need

More than one in three (38%) will accept a meeting invite, even when they're not relevant, because somebody more senior invited them.

So, one way to help free-up colleagues’ time is to consider whose input is essential, and who else might just want to see an actions report over attending.

Plus, think of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ two pizza rule: no meeting should be so big that two pizzas can’t feed the whole group.

5. Could your meeting be shorter?

Four in five (81%) office workers also say that they could achieve the same outcomes even if their meetings were shorter. This idea is backed up by academic theory too. Parkinson’s Law outlines how work expands to meet the time allocated to it, and the same could be said for meetings.

With that in mind, it’s vital to avoid scheduling overly long meetings and to ensure they finish on time.

Consider allocating a specific amount of time to each agenda item. Then, when time’s up, move on.

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6. Pick a facilitator

More than half of our survey group (55%) said they go to too many poorly facilitated meetings.

The facilitator plays a crucial role in an effective meeting. They make sure a meeting has objectives and enables the session to deliver on them.

It’s also their job to introduce attendees if necessary, to give everyone chance to speak and to keep discussion on-topic.

The logical facilitator for any meeting is the person who’s organising the meeting, so if you’re sending meeting invites to your coworkers, you should be prepared to act as facilitator and keep the meeting you scheduled on track so it’s productive for all attendees.

7. Share a meeting agenda ahead of time

More than three quarters of respondents (78%) said they need an agenda ahead of any given meeting.

It’s important to let every attendee know what contribution they’re going to make in the meeting, and what they need to prepare for as far in advance of the meeting as possible, with a reminder closer to the day.

This will increase the quality of the discussion, and reduce the risk of needing to run a follow-up session to cover off aspects of the meeting that weren’t completed because people weren’t properly prepared.

8. Take and share meeting notes

Nearly three quarters (73%) of our survey responders say they want to see action notes circulated following sessions.

Efficient meetings result in a clear, shared understanding of what’s needed next from everyone involved. The key to this is to ensure that all actionable items, takeaways, and decisions are recorded and shared with attendees after the meeting.

The key to good note taking is to allow people who didn’t attend the meeting to quickly understand the outcomes quickly. When there is a culture of effective, reliable reporting of meetings in a company, it’s easier for non-essential people to make the decision not to attend, freeing up their time for productive work.

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9. Give everyone the opportunity to participate

Research by the Kellogg School of Management shows that in a typical meeting of six people, two do more than 60% of the talking. In a group of eight, three people do 70%. Assuming that rule four is being followed, and everyone participating in the meeting has a good reason to be there, this is probably a sub-optimal balance.

Useful insights risk being missed if attendees that are not naturally confident in dominating the floor are not given a chance to participate.

Facilitators can help people come to the meeting prepared, helping everyone to feel confident in contributing valuable insights. They should also help to bring less-assertive attendees into discussions.

10. Discourage devices

It’s harder to focus when you're multitasking – scrolling social media, checking emails, or replying to messages.

Regularly checking our phones has become normalised and this habit is increasingly creeping into meetings, sometimes to the detriment of focused discussions. Almost half (44%) of our survey said they suspect colleagues of doing other work instead of paying attention.

When leading a meeting, whether in person or virtual, it’s fair to ask attendees at the outset to resist the temptation to check their messages and give their full attention to the topic in hand.

Be the meaningful meeting organiser

With the average office worker subjected to 172 meaningless meetings every year, there’s ample room for the UK to collectively up its meeting game.

If you’re guilty of organising needless meetings, following these mandates could help you to deliver better outcomes from meetings, without wasting your colleagues’ time.

Collectively, we could hand back hundreds of thousands of hours to companies each year for more productive means.

Learn more about the science behind running effective meetings.


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