Some meetings result in productive outcomes and solid decisions. Others are a complete waste of time. Indeed, employees cite meetings as one of their biggest complaints about their workplace. This fact is even more shocking, and ironic, given that other top workplace complaints are poor, and/or a lack of communication.
In fact, here are the top five complaints about workplace meetings and meeting management¹:
Complaint #1: One or two people do all the talking.
The solution: During a long workplace meeting, it is not realistic that all participants will have equal “air time.” With that said, there are some basic things you can do before, during, and after a meeting to ensure that the “air time” is not dominated by one or two people.
For example, at the beginning of the meeting, outline that you want broad participation and tell participants that you will not move on from a topic until everyone has had a chance to comment or ask a question. If your participants are shy, you can also ask permission to call on people for their contributions.
During the meeting, try to make sure that no one person is taking the conversation hostage. If someone speaks too often, or rudely interrupts others, ask the person to hold that thought, and then suggest that someone else share their ideas, opinions, and vantage points. Yet if someone still manages to dominate the conversation, firmly let them know after the meeting that you would like participation to be more even and balanced in the future.
Complaint #2: Meetings are not facilitated effectively.
The solution: The most senior manager in the meeting is not always the most effective meeting leader. As such, you can politely offer to facilitate the meeting yourself, or alternatively, you can suggest someone else lead the conversation. Just ensure that whoever leads the meeting has the participants’ respect and is willing to put in enough successful time and effort.
An alternative solution is to ask the meeting leader what their goals and preferences are for the meeting. For example, you may suggest saying, “You know, I think it would be helpful to know what kind of input we are all looking for here and how we will know if we have what we need.” In this way, you can ensure the meeting leader stays on track.
Complaint #3: The meeting’s topics should have been in an email and not part of the meeting conversation.
The solution: If most of your meeting is spent on updates that could have been proactively communicated in an email, then you are no doubt wasting participants’ time. Respectfully voice this concern to the meeting facilitator and offer to create an agenda that prioritizes topics that require the opinions, views, and alignment of the participant group.
To create a productive meeting, ask your team which topics need to be discussed and what the team wants to learn. Furthermore, clearly articulate the desired outcome of the meeting and try to predict the amount of time each discussion topic will take.
Complaint #4: Everyone is on their phones.
The solution: Suffice it to say that it is hard to find value in a meeting when no one is paying attention. Prior to, or at the beginning of each meeting, set a ground rule all participants will either not bring, or will set aside, their phones and other technological devices. While there will always be exceptions, like calls related to critical projects or family emergencies, proactively encouraging your team to use sound judgment with phone and email use during meetings, will thereby both limit distractions and foster more meaningful participation.
Complaint #5: The meetings are redundant.
The solution: When nothing gets accomplished between meetings, you wind up having the same conversations and setting the same goals over and over again. Needless to say, this results in a complete waste of time. Try sending out a post-meeting summary immediately, or at the very least by day’s end, which clearly articulates next steps and post-meeting “to dos.” Ensure that someone is assigned follow up responsibility to track progress on each task, in addition to clearly establishing who is responsible for completing each assignment and by when it should be completed. And if it is especially clear that you are not meeting your goals, come back together to decide how to get things back on track.
Source¹: Harvard Business Review, 2022.