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How to make meetings more enjoyable and productive, according to science

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Moya Crockett
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Because nobody likes bad meetings. 

Few things are more likely to make me grind my teeth in irritation than pointless meetings. As a writer and editor, I have multiple deadlines to hit every day, which means taking time away from my desk for unproductive, irrelevant or unnecessarily lengthy discussions makes me feel frustrated, resentful and stressed – three emotions I could always do without. (And don’t even get me started on the Meetings That Could Have Been an Email.)

I’m willing to bet that whatever industry you work in, you feel the same. Like finding networking awkward and wishing you didn’t have to do office-kitchen small talk, disliking meetings is a sentiment shared by workers around the world. One recent survey found that the average employee wastes nearly 13 working days a year in unproductive meetings, while other research suggests that almost half of professionals think at least some of the meetings they attend are a waste of time. Rare is the person who doesn’t think their organisation’s meeting culture could be improved at least a little bit.

But in order to reduce the number of bad meetings we have to sit through, it’s important to know what makes a good meeting. That’s exactly what a team of psychological scientists from the US recently set out to discover – and their findings have now been published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. 

Too many boring meetings? Get your boss to follow these tips 

Researchers from the University of Nebraska Omaha and Clemson University in South Carolina pulled together the results of almost 200 scientific studies on workplace meetings, in order to create a conclusive picture of how they can be made more gratifying and effective.

“Meetings are generally bad, but meeting science shows us there are concrete ways we can improve them,” says Joseph Allen, associate professor in industrial and organisation psychology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“Leaders can be more organized, start on time, and encourage a safe sharing environment. Attendees can come prepared, be on time, and participate.”

Read on for the researchers’ ultimate, science-approved tips for good meetings. 

Before the meeting

Make sure everyone knows what will be discussed in the meeting before it takes place 

Assess current needs. Essentially, meetings should have a clear purpose. If they don’t involve problem-solving, decision-making or meaningful discussions, they shouldn’t be held at all. Never hold meetings to share everyday, non-urgent information.

Circulate an agenda. This ensures that everyone understands the purpose of the meeting before it takes place, and allows people to prepare if necessary.

Invite the right people. If you’re organising a meeting, think carefully about what the goal of the get-together is. Only invite the people who can help achieve that aim.  

During the meeting

Encourage attendees to share thoughts during meetings 

Encourage contribution. The researchers found that the highest-performing professionals use meetings to set goals, help the group understand work problems, and seek feedback from others.

Make space for humour. Meetings don’t have to be stuffy. Research shows that creating an environment where colleagues feel able to laugh together can stimulate positive meeting behaviours and encourage participation and creative problem-solving. In turn, these positive meeting behaviours make for a stronger team performance.

Redirect complaining. If you’re in charge of a meeting, don’t let people sit around moaning. Too much complaining in meetings can quickly make attendees feel hopeless and frustrated, so try to keep things positive and practical.

Keep discussions focused. We’ve all been there: you’re in a meeting, someone brings up last night’s TV or a cool thing that a rival company is doing, and suddenly the agenda falls by the wayside. While chatting with colleagues can be enjoyable, it’s important that leaders keep everyone on topic if we want meetings to be productive.  

After the meeting

If you’re leading a meeting, ask attendees to send feedback on how they thought it went 

Share minutes. This step means everyone has a record of the decisions that were made in the meeting, as well a plan of action for next steps and an outline of designated roles and responsibilities. It also loops in people who weren’t able to attend the meeting.

Seek feedback. Leaders should always ask attendees what they thought about meetings. Did they think the structure was sensible? Was the content useful? This will help improve people’s satisfaction with meetings in future.

Look ahead. If participants want to build on progress made during the meeting, they should think about what they’re going to do next – as well as the immediate and long-term outcomes of the meeting.

Images: Getty Images / Pexels 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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