7 questions to assess whether your meetings are working

Of the 23 hours executives spend in meetings each week, on average, eight are unproductive. Yet leaders struggle to recognize when their own meetings are inefficient or unproductive, argues Steven Rogelberg for Harvard Business Review.

Research has found that leaders consistently rate their own meetings very favorably and more favorably than their attendees do, writes Rogelberg, a management professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He points to a study that found that 79% of leaders rate their own meetings as extremely or very productive, while only 56% said the same about meetings initiated by others.

When leaders assume their meetings are productive, they're less likely to ask for feedback or look for ways to improve, writes Rogelberg. As a result, inefficient meeting practices persist, leaving employees frustrated and disengaged, he argues.

To lead better meetings, you need to understand what you do well and not so well. After you lead your next meeting, take a few minutes to reflect on its quality and efficiency, recommends Rogelberg. He outlines seven questions to gauge how well your meetings are working.

1: Were people distracted?

It's hard to find value in a meeting when no one is paying attention. At the beginning of each meeting, ask your attendees to set aside technology. While there will always be exceptions—like calls related to critical projects or family emergencies—encouraging your team to use judgment with phone and email use during meetings will limit distractions and foster meaningful participation.

2: Who did most of the talking?

If one or two people did all the talking, attendees may have left your meeting feeling frustrated that they didn't have chance to participate.

You can make your next discussion more egalitarian by soliciting people's ideas and opinions in advance and sharing them during the meeting, recommends Rogelberg.  If someone speaks too often or interrupts others, ask the person to hold that thought, then suggest someone else share their ideas.

Keep reading: These 4 small steps will make your next meeting more inclusive

3: Did the discussion stray to irrelevant topics?

If the discussion kept veering away from the original agenda, you may not have clearly explained the goal of your meeting. When you open the meeting, explain its purpose and what kind of input you need from attendees, recommends Rogelberg. You can also remind people of previously agreed upon meeting values, like keeping comments succinct and relevant. 

4: Were the opinions and ideas expressed fairly similar?

If all the ideas that came out of your brainstorming session sound the same, you've run into group think, writes Rogelberg. You can prevent group think by asking people to sit silently and write down a few ideas on a piece of paper before sharing them out loud. The period of silence helps people form their own opinions without being influenced by other's thoughts, he explains. 

5: What energized people?

Perhaps it was the upbeat music you played as attendees entered the room or the space's natural light. Reflect on the moments your attendees seemed energized and think of ways to bring more of that energy into your next meeting, recommends Rogelberg.

If your meetings feel stale, experiment with the room or hour or format of the meeting, he suggests. You may find that brainstorming sessions work best in the morning or that your one-on-one check-ins feel more energetic when you take them outside.

6: Were the right people in the room?

If you invited too many attendees, you probably ran into social loafing or logistical challenges, writes Rogelberg. On the other hand, if you pared down your attendee list too much, you probably excluded some key decision makers, stakeholders, or influencers, he adds.

The optimal number of people to invite to your brainstorming session—and other types of meetings

Decide how many people to invite and who to invite based on the goal of your meeting. If you need to consider a problem, invite four people. And if you need to reach a decision, don't include more than seven people.

7: Was your meeting necessary?

Meetings are only useful if they move you towards a larger goal. To make your meetings feel meaningful, you need to connect them to a specific outcome and explain that goal to attendees.

When you set up each meeting, reflect on your desired outcomes and include them in an agenda. If your agenda turns out very short or includes mostly information updates, then you might be better off communicating via email. And if you can't connect your meeting to any broader goals, then cancel it.

Next steps

In addition to reflecting after each meeting, periodically ask your colleagues and employees for their feedback, recommends Rogelberg. Ask for candid feedback during a face-to-face meeting or send out a short online survey to ask people what works well, what needs improvement, and any suggestions, he adds (Rogelberg, Harvard Business Review, January-February Issue).


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