The Missing Link: Why People Feel Directionless in Meetings

  •    Megan is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. ChamberofCommerce.com’s platinum membership program helps small businesses grow on the web.

Meetings have gotten a bad reputation in recent years. First there were studies where employees named meetings the top time waster in business today. Then came the many articles offering suggestions for more effective meetings, which included keeping them brief, standing instead of sitting and avoiding them altogether unless absolutely necessary.

But the problem may not be with professional gatherings themselves. It could be that they aren’t planned to maximize results. Instead of worrying about rushing to meet a time limit or relying on emails instead of get-togethers, it could simply be a matter of organization.

In fact, “lack of direction” is a recurring theme in discussions surrounding meeting challenges. These issues could easily be resolved, but first it’s important to understand the many factors contributing to that directionless feeling your employees are experiencing.

Here are a few common meeting organization issues, as well as what companies are doing to solve them.

Nobody understands the point.

Look around at your next meeting and ask yourself how many people fully understand why they’re there. If the answer would be, “Because you told us to be,” chances are, you have a very typical problem.

Before calling your meeting, make sure you can sum up the reason for that meeting in one sentence. Use an app like Less Meeting to create an agenda that will clearly communicate your meeting goal and help you achieve it.

Also consider beginning every meeting with the simple question, “What are your expectations for this session?” This will help align everyone around the same point.

Too many people are present.

Meeting organizers often make the mistake of casting too wide a net when deciding which employees to invite. Unfortunately, too many participants can make a meeting ineffective. Experts recommend the 8-18-1800 rule, which says that problem-solving meetings should max out at eight attendees. Brainstorm and update meetings can go up to 18 participants, though, and troop-rallying meetings can go as high as 1,800. But beyond making it easy to gather input, small meetings also avoid having people in the audience who have no real reason to be there.

Meaningless note-taking.

As you watch your meeting participants scribbling away on a legal pad or tapping on a tablet screen, ask yourself what they will do with those notes after the meeting. If they aren’t using them, it’s a waste of time. Apps like GoWall are rethinking meeting note-taking in response to the short attention spans of today’s workers. Instead of jotting down what you’re saying to get through the meeting, attendees can turn note-taking into a collaborative effort, building on your commentary and providing takeaways likely to improve their overall productivity.

No solid takeaways.

In addition to effective note-taking, follow-up should be an important part of every meeting. Each attendee should go back to work with a takeaway that can either help them do their work or push forward an ongoing project. Make a note to yourself to follow up on each of these takeaways, sending a reminder email if necessary to keep the ball rolling.

Too much filler.

Are your meetings concise and to the point? If not, you aren’t alone. Many meeting leaders have difficulty sticking to the topic at hand, a problem often related to not closely following an agenda. Going beyond PowerPoint, you can use a tool like OneNote to present in a more collaborative way, a solution that is especially effective if attendees bring a tablet or laptop with them. This will help keep you from straying into a ten-minute off-topic conversation while also reassuring everyone in attendance that your meeting has direction.

Lack of control.

Unfortunately, even with the most professional staff, meetings can easily be derailed by disruptive attendees. There are several difficult meeting behaviors that can frustrate attendees and derail your meetings, keeping you from meeting your goals. In addition to leadership tactics you can use to manage these behaviors, you can use a tool like Meeteor to streamline your meetings and keep them on track. Simply point everyone back to the screen when the conversation veers off course and eventually, attendees will get the message.

Not everyone’s a communicator.

It would be nice if every meeting could involve an equal exchange of ideas, with everyone contributing. Unfortunately, not everyone is a talented communicator. It’s important to recognize this and make sure everyone in attendance is getting something out of the meeting.

You may have team members who would feel much more comfortable contributing ideas through email or in a one-on-one situation. Instead of forcing them into a roomful of people and forcing them to speak, work with their preferred communication style or, if a group situation is absolutely necessary, consider sending them to a communication class.

As many ways as there are to collaborate and communicate in today’s workplace, sometimes meetings are the best way to get business done. It’s important to have the right tools and techniques available to make sure each attendee is getting something out of your meetings. If not, you may see an ongoing drop in morale.