Avoiding the Pitfalls: Key Mistakes Leaders Make in Meetings

Lack of preparation leads to wasted time in meetings and impacts productivity after the meeting.

What does it take to run a decent meeting? Studies over the past few years show that you don’t necessarily need an agenda. Fancy reports, slick equipment, and even chairs are nice-to-haves at best. And while it hurts my heart to admit it, taking great notes matters more for what happens after the meeting than it does during the meeting itself.

It turns out that there aren’t a lot of absolute must-haves for a great meeting. The requirements are:

  1. Clarity about the purpose and goals for the meeting,
  2. A plan for achieving those goals, and
  3. Engaging everyone present.

Which makes the findings in this new study all the more damning. 

Key findings in the study by meeting engagement company Mentimeter and Dr. Steven Rogelberg, author of The Surprising Science of Meetings, include:

“Leaders do not appear to recognize the importance of giving a meeting thought prior to it occurring. Only 11 percent of Americans feel their meeting leaders almost always have a compelling plan for the meeting. 67 percent of Americans indicate that having a compelling plan for a meeting occurs at or less than 50 percent of the time.

And, once the meeting has started, only 13 percent of Americans believe leaders are very good at including participants input into meeting. Over a third of Americans (36 percent) feel that meeting leaders are poor at including participants’ input during meetings.”

In our research, my team at Lucid Meetings found that there are more than 55 million meetings every day in the U.S, consuming a conservative two trillion U.S. dollars in labor costs each year. That’s more than all the U.S. currency currently in circulation.

This latest study shows yet again that most organizations ignore this enormous investment, and through this neglect, squander it. I know this, but always find it stunning. Can you imagine if our other business processes or production lines produced a reliable quality outcome only 11 to 13 percent of the time?

What’s worse: When a meeting goes badly, it’s not only the time invested during the meeting that’s wasted. 

From the same study: “55 percent of Americans find that a poorly conducted meeting negatively affects their productivity afterward, and 54 percent need to talk to colleagues to refocus following poor meetings.”

Bad meetings ripple in ugly, destructive ways throughout teams.

Better Meetings = Better Engagement = Better Performance

I spoke with Johnny Warström, founder of Mentimeter, about why they conducted this study and what he hoped leaders would take away from these findings. He said:

“Engagement at work; it’s always tied to listening. When an employee feels that their leader and team hear them, they’re engaged. If you’re heard, that’s OK — it’s good. You don’t have to be the decider if you’re heard. And as a leader, it’s not hard to do. We wanted to understand what’s getting in the way of that.”

Mentimeter, a technology company based in Sweden, creates an app that makes it easy for people to interact during meetings using short polls. Tech like this gives us simple ways for everyone to be heard when key questions arise, not just the loud guy in the back of the room. But while tools like this help, they get used for just a few minutes in an hour-long meeting — and only when the meeting leader remembers to use them. 

Both the wording of the survey questions and the replies reveal widespread agreement that meeting leaders aren’t doing enough to prepare in advance. Leaders who come in unprepared aren’t ready to engage the group, no matter how many colorful sticky notes or cool technologies they have at hand.

If you suspect you might be that unprepared meeting leader, what should you do? On this one, Warström and I agree.

Three Things That Matter: Purpose, Purpose, Purpose

The meeting purpose states why the team needs to meet. Why do these people need to invest their time together now? Why does this company need to pay these people to be in that meeting? 

You know what they say matters with property: location, location, location. Of course there’s more to it than that, and of course there’s more to a decent meeting than just a clear purpose. But without a clear purpose, nothing else matters. 

If you struggle to lead engaging meetings, first get clear on the meeting purpose. 

When you have a clear purpose for every meeting, you will show up better prepared. Your employees will see you in a better light. Even better, you’ll know to only invite those people relevant to the meeting’s purpose. Then, you’ll naturally get everyone involved, giving them that all-important opportunity to be heard.

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