Tips for Building Highly Productive Meetings

Organizations hold more than 3 billion meetings each year; with executives locked away in meeting rooms for more than 23 hours a week; and 90% of meeting attendees admit to daydreaming or doing other work during meetings. I would imagine most of us are guilty of one of these. If you think about the time and money wasted by ineffective meetings… the numbers are jaw dropping.

Why do we continue to spend time in meetings that are not productive? In many cases, unproductive meetings are a function of a cultural problem that starts at the top. Executives set the tone for what is and is not acceptable in meetings. Companies where meetings start on time are run by executives that do not accept tardiness. Leaders who shape highly productive agendas often learned their approach from executive teams that will not tolerate unproductive meetings.

Unfortunately, many company cultures value the action of having a meeting over outcomes and therefore fail to focus on defining a purpose for meetings and each agenda item in advance. At Farland Group, we facilitate customer advisory boards and strategy boards – it is our goal to ensure that we can track a return on every minute of time invested. Recently, we’ve begun working on executive team meetings where we have inserted our methodology, and we have received positive feedback on the level of productivity and accountability. I thought I’d share some of our tips here:

Meeting Preparation:

Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes:  Ask yourself and the group hosting the meeting the following set of questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the meeting?
  2. What outcomes will define success of the meeting?
  3. Who is critical to be in the room given the defined outcomes?
  4. What are the goals of the other meeting participants? How can you help them achieve their goals?
  5. What are the 3-5 agenda items that must be addressed in the time allotted?

If you can’t answer these questions; cancel your meeting and poll your key stakeholders to find answers to these questions so that you are using your time and theirs productively.

Agenda Development

This is not your shopping list – meeting agendas should not include every possible thing you can imagine. Be strategic with people’s time, they will thank you for it. Remove items that can be easily covered in one-on-one discussions or other forms of rapid communication. Focus your agenda on 3-5 areas only – the fewer topics the better.

Define discussion questions that you would like the attendees to come prepared to answer. This will help your meeting participants to understand what is expected of them and give them a clear view as to how they can contribute and have an impact. One of the reasons people lose interest in meetings is they are not held accountable to contributing. Spend time to make sure that all meeting participants have a role to play.

Redefine Outcomes and Next Steps

It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many meeting leaders do not clearly state the actions and next steps. Be clear before closing the meeting on the following:

  • Who is responsible
  • For what outcomes
  • In what timeframes

Get Meeting Feedback in the Room

Ask participants to offer their final word on the meeting – was it a good use of time? How can the agenda and meeting facilitation be improved? Etc.

For your next meeting – think about how you will provide a return on the investment of time for each participant and hold yourself and your meeting attendees accountable to making the meeting productive.


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