How to fix all those useless meetings

Is there anything worse than having your entire day eaten up by meetings? They are often unfocused, filled to too many people who don’t need to be there and they don’t seem to accomplish the decisions that needed to be made. In this episode, we will look at why so many companies are meetings centric and the four things you need to work on so you can have fewer meetings and the ones you do have will be more productive.

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Today we are going to talk about the bane of my existence – meetings. Meeting are a necessary evil but if you are like me then too much of your day is eaten up by them. Its not right, its not productive and I think its even self destructive for creatives when you keep getting further away from what you love. And the more senior you are the more of your time seems to be eaten up by them. I’m at a point in my career where I have to fight for time to design and be creative and that drives me crazy.

But just to clarify that in this episode we are talking about meetings – not brainstorms. Meeting are to make a decision. Brainstorms are to create ideas. Don’t mix the two up.

How did we get here?

Why do we have so many meetings? Why does this get so out of control and how do you know when you have a healthy amount of meetings? Like so many of the things we talk about on this show, I think it happens because it is a symptom of broken leadership models. See which of these two options you and your team fall into…

Information up
The model the I see too often is the most broken. Its the one where everyone on the team has to have meetings to push information up the tiers of the organization. This leads to too many meetings and a structure that is paralyzed and ineffective as the top tier becomes a bottle neck and no one has any authority.

Authority down
The better model is one where the top tier leadership and every level of leadership pushes their authority down the organization. It leads to fewer meetings, vastly higher team engagement and in my experience much better work.

There are four areas you are going to want to look at to fix this problem – focus, people, time and the aftermath.


Insisting on a clear purpose for every meeting.
The fact that a meeting is supposed to focus on a key decision doesn’t mean that it will. You have to define the purpose of the meeting and a clear outcome that needs to happen. Anything that doesn’t have a purpose shouldn’t be a meeting and anything distracts from goals need to be tabled for another time.

Never call a speculative meeting.
Some leaders call a meetings as a way to soothe their own anxiety. They want to assure themselves that progress is being made. This is terribly demotivating to the team, which has to stop the actual work and put on a dog and pony show just so that leader can feel better.

Insist on requirements for the meeting to happen.
This could include attendees who have to be there, decks that have to be done by a certain and other things to be sure you have the people and the things you need to make decisions.

Have the right people in the meeting to get things done and make progress.
This doesn’t mean just decision makers. There are some meetings where you might need to energize the team, break through a problem and more. Use SYPartners Supowers deck to understand what all your team members bring to the table so you can get the right people in the room.

Use time to focus people.
When it comes to meetings and how long they take – the water will always fill the container. This means that if you make a meeting an hour, even though you only have 20 minutes of content, the meeting will find a way to take an hour. Make the meeting slightly shorter than you think it should be to create a sense of urgency and focus.

Save the small talk for lunch or the elevator.
Welcome everyone and get right to the point. Although you may think that this makes you a cold, distant leader, people will actually love you more for respecting their time.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly but too much time is spent on small talk and things that have nothing to do with what you are there to accomplish. Get it in there, get something solved and then get back to everything else you need to do.

Don’t leave the room unless there is a decision or clear next steps.
Too many meetings end because time was up, someone had to leave or because there was a disagreement. This only means that there will need to be another meeting and the one you were just in was a complete waste of time. Don’t leave the room unless you decided on what you came there for or there are clear next steps with roles and responsibilities.


Get rid of people who don’t need to be there.
Fear of missing out is a huge cause of large, out of control meetings. Go around the room and be sure every NEEDS to be there, is going to contribute and isn’t there just so they don’t miss out on something they aren’t working on.


Start on time.
You can say whatever you want about how much you value people’s time, but your actions prove your words. Be a respectful person snd expect others to follow suit. Refuse to tolerate those who waste your time or the time of others.

Build buffers between scheduled meetings.
If you truly want the people on your team to bring their best thinking to a meeting, don’t chain meetings back to back, especially if they are about different projects. Give them five or ten minutes to recollect themselves between meetings, to check in with their other commitments if necessary, and to refocus on the next topic.

The aftermath

Group recap email.
Not many people have a great memory so it is amazing how differently they can remember a meeting. So to fight this be sure to have someone take notes in the meeting. Send it out to the entire group so everyone has the same notes and will have the same thing to refer to.

“Meeting withdrawal”
Because meetings are so common, many people rely on them to organize their work lives. They gauge their relative status by the number of invitations they get.

So not everyone will be happy if companies reduce the number of meetings and invitees.

To smooth the transition, it helps to convey the idea that everybody will soon be attending fewer meetings—and that the remaining meetings will be more productive than in the past. Leaders should attend only those meetings where they play a decision role. They should push back when someone tries to reopen a decision. Every meeting leader can adopt new techniques, such as a moment at the beginning asking, “Does everyone have to be here?” Peers and superiors can recognize and praise such behaviors.

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