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How to create a great meeting culture at your organization

By: Leanne Armstrong


Harvard Business Review once reported that executives spend nearly 23 hours a week on average in poorly timed, badly run meetings.

According to Business Insider, meanwhile, not only do some 11 million meetings take place in the United States every day (costing companies about $37 billion annually), a full third of those are considered unproductive and inefficient.

Clearly, great meetings don’t just happen.

Creating a culture that promotes well-orchestrated, useful get-togethers takes planning and purpose. And that hasn’t changed just because more gatherings are happening virtually. Indeed, along with an increase in the number of daily meetings taking place, there’s now the element of “Zoom fatigue” to contend with.

If you’re looking to take better control of your meetings in a way your entire team can get behind, this article offers insight into what we believe a great meeting culture looks like, along with some practical guidance for helping your organization create one.

What does a strong meeting culture look like?

As a set of behaviors that guide workplace actions and interactions, your culture is largely about the way your company does something – like hold meetings, for example.

First and foremost, a strong meeting culture means being able to pull together professional meet-ups of any size that are well-organized, and that lead to a tangible outcome or next steps.

Your meeting culture also says a lot about:

  • The way your team collaborates
  • Your organization’s expectations of individual employees
  • How successful your team is likely to be at reaching company goals

As a reflection of poor meeting culture, organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry found that 35% of employees would attend a meeting they know will be unproductive, rather than decline the invitation.

A great meeting culture on the other hand, is transparent, sustainable, and driven by mutual respect and accountability. Everyone involved in productive group discussions understands their role, and has a clear sense of responsibility with regard to meeting etiquette.

How to run an orderly meeting

The best way to keep your meetings organized is to ensure they’re well-structured. Developing a meeting culture based on etiquette like solid preparation, punctuality, and progress is a good place to start.

Preparation

Whether you’re calling or attending a meeting, everyone should come prepared. You can make sure that happens by:

  • Setting out a clearly defined meeting goal
  • Designing a well-constructed agenda
  • Communicating all of the above to meeting attendees in advance

You’ll experience less time wastage and get more out of your meetings when everyone knows why they’re there, what’s going to happen, and how long it will take.

Punctuality

Workplace meetings are notorious for beginning late and running long. In addition to setting a strict start and finish time, consider making it a meeting etiquette policy to:

  • Stop giving latecomers “just a few more minutes” to join
  • Limit every meet-up to a single objective
  • Schedule meetings during a pre-agreed period during the day so they’ll work for most people, most of the time

While the time you allot to your meeting will depend on the topic and objective at hand, it’s good practice to avoid padding your schedule with more time than you’ll need.

Progress

To ensure you meet your goal, you’ll need a plan for maintaining control of your meeting. Some effective ways to keep discussions on track include:

  • Acting as, or assigning a dedicated facilitator
  • Always sticking firmly to your agenda
  • Asking team members to make note of any follow-up questions so they can reach out after the meeting

You’ll also achieve greater efficiency and collaboration if you make inviting only those people who need to attend part of your meeting best practices.

Creating a tangible meeting outcome

To ensure team members are clear on next steps coming out of your meeting, try to make those the final item on your discussion agenda.

You’ll also save time, cement understanding, and improve information retention if you take advantage of established visual aids to help meet your outcome, such as:

Once again, a well-built agenda will come in handy after your meeting for use as a group reference source – one you can supplement with a follow-up summary that answers any post-meeting questions.

Use meeting best practices to cut down on unnecessary gatherings

One of the biggest management issues your meeting culture will need to tackle is the time, energy, and productivity loss associated with unnecessary meetings.

According to Korn Ferry’s survey:

  • Some two-thirds (67%) of professionals say they spend too much time in meetings and on calls, which negatively impacts their work
  • More than one-third (34%) report wasting 2-5 hours weekly on calls or meetings that accomplish little or nothing

Unnecessary virtual meetings, meanwhile, don’t just contribute to online fatigue, they also increase employee stress.

Fortunately, your organization can do away with negatives like these by implementing meeting best practices that result in fewer gatherings and make the meetings you do have more constructive.

Make agendas mandatory

By making valuable meeting agendas compulsory, you force organizers to carefully consider the purpose of their meeting and who should attend. In many cases, going through such an exercise will help leaders conclude that a formal gathering isn’t really required.

Schedule regular meetings

Scheduling daily or weekly meet-ups will help your organization stay better aligned around goals and workflow – reducing the need to constantly get together to clarify direction.

Limit meeting hours

The less time we’re given to accomplish something, the better we tend to be at prioritizing. When you block out daily or weekly “meeting-free” periods across your organization, you encourage a culture where everyone’s time is assigned greater value.

To cut down on unnecessary get-togethers, think twice before you call that next meeting. Is there a better way to get your message across?

In some cases, a well-worded email (or shared PowerPoint or document link) may be all you need to cover a certain topic and sort out any questions.

Topics that require a meeting, versus those that don’t

There are definitely topics that are best addressed in a team meeting venue – including those that involve a pressing decision or deadline.

Group discussions are also the way to go for:

  • Sharing and examining different viewpoints or ideas
  • Engaging in team-building
  • Aligning around a new or time-sensitive project

As we’ve discussed however, the matter at hand may be just as easily covered in some more expedient way – via email, phone, or team messaging app, for example.

This is especially true for topics that don’t require a back-and-forth interaction or individual, in-person input. For example, if you’re simply looking to collect feedback, review deliverables, or disseminate information, chances are good you can get away without a formal meeting.

To help you delineate between topics that warrant getting your team together and those that don’t, here are some examples of what we consider necessary interactive engagements:

Some examples of not-so-necessary meetings include:

  • Ongoing status updates
  • Face-time accountability meetings (especially for remote workers)
  • Most spontaneous or impromptu (read: agenda-free) meet-ups

Remember: when you’re especially attached to a project or goal, it can be easy to get caught up in scheduling regular check-ins with teammates. By limiting your meetings to those that support key milestones or objectives, you’ll make it easier for your team to stay productive and focused.

7 meeting etiquette tips that optimize results

Adhering to a set of company-wide rules around meeting conduct will ensure you consistently make the most of the opportunity every time your team comes together.

Here are 7 tips for managing meeting behavior so as to maximize meeting results:

  1. Prioritize starting and ending on time, and always follow your agenda.
  2. Avoid defaulting to a 1-hour timeslot. While experts suggest maxing out meet-ups at 45-60 minutes, briefer is better whenever possible – especially for virtual meetings.
  3. Decide about tech in advance. Advise your in-person team whether they’ll need their phones or laptops. Going “tech-free” – by providing pen and paper, and having participants turn off and put away their devices – can minimize distractions and interruptions.
  4. Assign a clock-watcher. Have somebody announce when you’re one-third and two-thirds of the way through your meeting, and when there are just 5 minutes left.
  5. Build question time into your schedule, but stand firm on deferring open-ended or off-topic questions until after the meeting.
  6. Practice effective communication. If coherent speech and active listening don’t come naturally, it may be worth investing in team communication
  7. Come prepared to use visual aids, and be sure to summarize next steps at the end of each meeting.

By combining a great meeting culture with a versatile meeting management tool like MindManager, you can prepare your organization to handle challenges, make decisions, and solve problems faster and more efficiently.

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