The 5 most common complaints about meetings and how to fix them

Daily Briefing

The 5 most common complaints about meetings and how to fix them

Some meetings result in productive brainstorming and solid decisions. Others are a waste of time. But employees tend to complain about meetings no matter the outcome.

Luckily, some of the most common meeting woes have simple solutions, writes Paul Axtell, corporate trainer and author of Meetings Matter, for Harvard Business Review. He shares the five most common complaints about meetings and what to do about them:

Complaint #1: One or two people do all the talking

The solution: During an hour-long meeting, it’s unrealistic that all participants will have equal floor time. But there are simple things you can do before, during, and after a meeting to ensure the conversation isn’t dominated by one or two people.

At the beginning of the meeting, clarify that you want broad participation and tell participants that you won’t move on from a topic until everyone has had a chance to make a comment or ask a question. If your crowd is shy, ask permission to call on people for their contributions, suggests Axtell.

During the meeting, ensure no one is taking the conversation hostage. If someone speaks too often or interrupts others, ask the person to hold that thought, then suggest someone else share their ideas, writes Axtell. And if someone still manages to dominate the conversation, let them know after the meeting that you’d like participation to be more balanced in the future.

Complaint #2: Meetings aren’t run effectively

The solution: The most senior person in the room isn’t always the most effective meeting leader, notes Axtell. If that’s the case, offer to facilitate the meeting yourself or suggest someone to take the lead. Just make sure whoever runs the meeting has the group’s respect and is willing to put in the appropriate time and effort.

Another solution is to ask the meeting leader what their goals and expectations are. Axtell suggests saying, “It’d be helpful to know what kind of input you’re looking for here and how we’ll know if you have what you need.” This way, you can help the meeting leader stay on track.

Complaint #3: The meeting should have been an email

The solution: If the majority of your meeting is spent on updates that could have been communicated via email, you have a problem. Respectfully voice this concern to the meeting organizer and offer to craft an agenda that prioritizes “topics that require the thinking and alignment of the group,” suggests Axtell.

To plan a productive meeting, ask your team which topics need to be discussed or what the team needs to learn. Articulate the desired outcome of the meeting and predict the amount of time each discussion topic will take. “If you do good work on an issue or two in each meeting, time spent sharing information will be less of a burden,” writes Axtell.

Complaint #4: Everyone is on their phones

The solution: It’s hard to find value in a meeting when no one is paying attention. At the beginning of each meeting, agree 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.

And this should start at the top. The most senior-level participants must model attentive behavior to set new expectations. “If they have side conversations, bring other work, or constantly check their technology, they’re sending the message that this meeting doesn’t really matter to them,” writes Axtell. “And it creates a dangerous norm that being distracted is OK.”

Complaint #5: The meetings are redundant

The solution: When nothing gets done between meetings, you end up having the same conversations and setting the same goals over and over. Send out a summary after each meeting within the hour or by the end of the day clearly articulating next steps. Make sure someone is following up to track each person’s progress on the assignment they were given and aim for an 85% completion rate. If you aren’t meeting your goal, come together to decide how to get back on track.

Source: Axtell, Harvard Business Review, 6/4/18

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