How to Host More Productive Business Meetings

Meetings don’t exactly hold a glowing reputation in the minds of most modern office workers — and often for good reason. The average worker spends 21 percent of their time on the job in meetings, and they think a quarter of that time is being wasted, according a recent survey by Accountemps, an accounting and finance staffing agency with offices around the country.

The reality is that office gatherings are often the most efficient way to communicate, collaborate and come to important decisions, so it’s not practical to do away with them entirely. But workplace gatherings don’t have to be a monotonous drain on employee morale. It just takes the right approach to make them work for your organization.

We rounded up some expert tips to help you plan the most productive — and engaging — meetings possible.

Be Clear About The Purpose

Managers sometimes get in the habit of calling meetings whether they need to or not. In the Accountemps survey, 63 percent of attendees listed unnecessary meetings as a top issue. Creating a productive office gathering means first honestly examining whether it’s absolutely necessary to schedule it in the first place.

“Before calling a meeting, ask yourself if the information can be shared via email,” says Josh Warborg, district president of Accountemps. Sometimes a phone call will do. However, if an issue can be settled quicker and more effectively with a group discussion, then schedule a meeting.

Without a clear agenda, meetings can go on forever, or they may end without covering the essential points. “Have a very clear intention of the help you want from the group,” says Stacey Engle, executive vice president at Fierce Conversations, a leadership-development and training company. “I recommend preparation that outlines what the issue is, why it’s significant, the ideal outcome and what specific help is wanted from the group.”

For maximum effectiveness, post the agenda in advance so everyone can prepare for the discussion, Warborg says. The Accountemps research backs up these suggestions: 47 percent of survey respondents said they can’t prepare for meetings because they don’t know about agenda items in advance, while 49 percent said agendas are ignored.

Experiment With Your Meeting Structure and Style

Once you determine that a meeting is indeed required, it’s time to decide who actually should join in on the discussion. Depending on your organization, there’s a good chance it doesn’t need to involve everyone. “Keep the list of attendees small — only invite the people who need to be there,” Warborg says. Even at online tech giant Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly imposes a rule of not planning a meeting in which two pizzas aren’t enough to feed everyone.

Shorter, more inclusive meetings that make space for everyone to contribute productively will leave employees with a more positive feeling after the gathering — especially if you take care to ensure the content of the meeting is relevant to everyone involved.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with the style of your meeting. If your team is struggling to engage in longer sit-down meetings, consider holding a shorter meeting without chairs in which participants stand up. There is some evidence that shows stand-up meetings encourage participants to work together, share ideas and produce higher-quality work versus sit-down meetings.

Create an Inviting Meeting Environment

Creating a collaborative atmosphere where divers ideas and opinions can be shared freely is key. The Accountemps survey shows that too many workers cite attendees interrupting each other as top drawback of office meetings. Whether it’s a decision-making meeting or a brainstorming session, make sure one opinion does not dominate so you can gather as many ideas as possible, Engle says. “Draw out the differing perspectives and don’t let one opinion dominate,” she says.

Finally, it should go without saying, but organizations should take steps to provide comfortable physical space for meetings. That means a reasonable temperature and enough space for everyone to attend and contribute comfortably. For meetings that exceed 30 minutes, offering water, coffee or even light snacks is a great way to create an inviting atmosphere and encourage attendance. Offering a variety of options, including cold brew, can help make everyone feel welcome.

There’s also a good chance including coffee in the meeting will lead to a more productive exchange of ideas. Research indicates that employees who drink coffee with peers before a group discussion are more likely to participate in the discussion and to have a positive view of both the discussion and their co-workers. The study also found that coffee drinkers were more alert during group discussions and provided better input.