Meetings are a fact of corporate life. They’re necessary for communication among colleagues, but can be a major time suck and waste of productivity. Allowing latecomers, meetings without focus, and a lack of clear goals can make meetings feel pretty pointless, and have a major negative impact on your company. Are you making these fatal mistakes? Read on to find the 13 worst meeting mistakes you can make, and what you can do to fix them.
- Flexible meeting start times:
Meetings are enough of a time suck; assuming that they’re kept to specific time constraints. Let them start late, and you’re wasting even more time that could be used more productively. Create a culture that encourages prompt attendance, avoiding allowing latecomers to make their tardiness a habit. Allow for a one-minute grace period, and start without latecomers. They’ll get the hint after a few meetings. Or, try Seth Godin‘s method: the latest latecomer has to contribute $10 to the coffee fund.
- Poor agenda planning:
Or, no agenda at all. Before you start a meeting, you absolutely must have a plan for where it will go. Determine the most important topics, and the ones that will require the most discussion. Place these first on the agenda, and you’ll be able to hit the most important points. Fail to do this, and you may spend too much time discussing topics of lesser significance early on in the meeting, failing to leave time for what the meeting’s really about.
- An undefined purpose:
Do you have an agenda at all? Any important items to go over that can’t wait until later? As GovExec.com points out, “It’s Monday,” is not a good reason to have a meeting. If there’s nothing pressing to go over, skip the meeting and give your staff that time back to better perform their jobs.
- Overloading the schedule:
Alternatively, meetings that are packed full of information can be killers as well. Trying to fit too much information into one short meeting is a recipe for disaster and can lead to frenzied discussions and meetings that run late. Does every single attendee need to take part in every single agenda item, or are there some discussions that could be broken down into smaller groups?
- Allowing meetings to go on forever:
Show respect for your employees’ time by not allowing for meetings to on for an extended period of time. Studies show that after about an hour and a half, meeting attendees start to lose focus, so any time after that is not nearly as productive as the first 90 minutes. Plan your meetings to last for an hour and a half at the most, and let attendees know so that they’ll be able to plan the rest of their day after the meeting as well.
- Failing to prepare:
There’s nothing worse than trying to run or participate in a meeting where no one really knows what’s going on. Valuable meeting time is wasted having to go back and catch everyone up. Instead, meeting participants should be briefed, before the meeting, on what they’ll need to know ahead of time. Require preparation and tasks before the meeting, and if participants fail to meet these tasks, simply kick them out. There’s no time for people who aren’t up to speed.
- Technical difficulties:
If you’re familiar with your presentation equipment and can do what you need with minimal problems, that’s great. But in a new location, or when you’re working with new technology, you may run into technical difficulties that can really put a snag in your meeting. If you’re presenting at a meeting, show up early and be 100% sure that you’re ready to share without any time-killing technical problems.
- Silent participants:
If attendees aren’t contributing to the meeting, why are they there? Although it’s understandable that some may be shy and unwilling to speak up during meetings, you need to enforce a meeting culture that requires them to speak up. Find ways to engage even the most quiet participants, whether through direct questions or round-robin responses. Also consider giving attendees a few minutes to write down ideas before brainstorming in general discussion, or breaking into small groups before a larger discussion.
- Poor date choice:
Just about any weekday works, right? Wrong. Religious and government holidays, even major sporting events, can get in the way of perfect attendance. Before setting your meeting, ensure that the day and time do not have any major conflicts that might keep attendees from being able to make it.
- Missing key staff:
Often a consequence of poor date choice, holding meetings without the key players is just a terrible idea. No concrete decisions can be made, important insight is missing, and it sends a message that the meeting just isn’t as important as it really is. Before scheduling a meeting, check in with the most important attendees to make sure that they can commit to making it. Also, be sure to make it clear that meetings are not optional and are only productive if everyone attends.
- No decisions are made:
Agenda is key here. What do you hope to accomplish at your meeting? Which decisions must be made? Make sure that all attendees know the goals and outcomes expected for the meeting. Prioritize your agenda to make sure the most important, or linchpin, decisions can be made before moving on to the next item. Set the expectation that you’ll be working through impasses during each meeting so that they actually get done.
- Little/no followup:
So you’ve had your meeting, now what? Do you go your separate ways and never discuss the meeting topics again? That sounds like a huge waste of time. Shortly after the completion of a meeting, the organizer should send each attendee a summary of what the meeting was about, plus individualized action items to maximize the effectiveness of the meeting.
- Allowing disruptive behavior:
There’s no shortage of distractions that can cut into precious productive meeting time. Mobile phones, personal conversations, fidgeting, and even dominating discussions can make it hard for everyone to pay attention. When a person’s behavior is disrupting the group, don’t let it go on. Politely but forcefully call out the offender and address the distraction.