From Solo to Synergy: Convincing Others to Embrace Better Meeting Practices

You can’t change bad meeting habits on your own. Here’s how to get others onboard.

It’s that time of the year where we all take a critical look at our habits, including our business habits. For most businesses, that means meetings — lots of meetings. 

You can think of your team’s meeting habits in the same way you think of your diet. Some meetings (and meals) are satisfying, healthy, and provide the necessary energy a team needs to get on with the day. Some are rushed, routine, and unfulfilling. Other meetings leave you discombobulated, bloated with indigestible information, and ready for a nap. 

This makes overhauling a team’s meetings a popular business resolution for the New Year. There’s just one problem. We don’t meet alone. 

Here’s where the diet analogy fails. Unlike eating, meetings are always a group activity. While you may be able to impact one or two critical meetings on your own, your progress will be limited until you can get the rest of your leadership group on board.

So, about this time every year, I get a surge of questions like this:

Elise, how can I help other leaders see the value of taking time to intentionally design the meetings needed to sustain our business? Is there data and evidence to support the increased focus on this?

Answer: Absolutely! But data alone rarely convinces someone to take action on a problem they’d rather ignore. That’s why I recommend this three-step approach to getting buy-in for better meeting habits.

1. Tell inspiring meeting stories.

The path to better meetings starts by improving one meeting at a time. For most teams, the first step will be an improved weekly team meeting, or maybe the addition of a huddle

Before you suggest any specific changes, though, you need to help your peers get a feel for how you believe those meetings should work by telling stories from other companies. There are hundreds of stories about teams who’ve found ways to love their meetings online. Search for meetings at Amazon, Google, Pixar, IDEO, the U.S. Navy Seals, Intel – any companies your peers find aspirational. Or alternatively, which fearsome competitors do they worry about? Search for stories about how these companies meet and share the positive examples with your team.

Storytelling like this connects with both the rational and emotional decision-making centers of the brain and gives everyone a mental picture of what you’re asking them to do.

2. Collect the evidence.

With that vision in place, you can now bring in the data. There is a direct relationship between meeting quality and:

  • Productivity
  • New business creation
  • Decision-making quality and velocity
  • Employee engagement and retention

To collect evidence for your team, list all the meetings held in the past 30 days in a spreadsheet. Add columns to track the number of attendees and the duration of each meeting. Multiplying these numbers with average salary costs will give you a low-end cost estimate. 

Then add two more columns; one to track the business value each meeting is meant to achieve (Hint: it should relate to one of the categories listed above) and a second column to add a rating for how well the meeting achieved that goal. 

When you’re done, you’ll have a spreadsheet showing what you’re spending on meetings and what you’re getting in return that you can share with colleagues.

3. Demonstrate the business case

Finally, you’re ready to begin the transformation. You told stories to help your peers visualize how these new meetings could and should work, and you collected data to establish an initial benchmark against which you can measure progress.

Now it’s time to experiment with new ways of meeting. You may start by trying out a cool-sounding technique you learned from one company, and then ask others to suggest new experiments you can try. Approaching these changes as an experiment acknowledges that a) you don’t know what will work until you try it and b) you’re inviting people to think critically about what constitutes a successful meeting.

Not only will this give everyone a voice and a stake in how you meet, it also creates the shift in perspective you were seeking. Everyone is now asking the question “How can we make this meeting better?” 

Ultimately, the best way to help leaders see the value of intentionally designing meetings is to make it their design. We all see the value in our own babies. 

Then, when the new year rolls around again, you’ll no longer be asking how to get buy-in. You and your team will be looking for ways to increase the benefits and competitive advantage you’ve found in your new, improved meetings. 

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