Consider a slow but consistent faucet leak. You may barely notice the individual drips, but before you realize, you’re up to your ankles in water. Bad meeting culture proliferates a company much in the same way. Examined in individual pieces, bad habits around company meetings may not seem like that big of a deal. However, often, those bad habits create a snowball of more bad habits that, when added together, result in an entirely toxic meeting culture.  

Is your company a breeding ground for bad meeting culture? Often, you might not even know it or know what to do about it. The result within the office is a lack of productivity, frustrated employees, and wasted resources. 

Know the signs of a bad meeting culture and the steps you can take to eliminate them. 

Leak #1: Meetings routinely start late … 

Maybe this is the result of the meeting organizer arriving late. Maybe it’s common for attendees of all levels to rush in after the scheduled start time. There are a number of reasons employees arrive late to meetings. In addition to general bad time management, it could be because employees’ schedules are so packed with meetings, they often fall back-to-back (more on this later). When one meeting runs late, it sets off a trickle effect that can affects the entire rest of the day. Regardless, a late start isn’t good for anyone involved. Add up all the wasted time of those employees that are on time and left waiting for a meeting to begin and you could have hours of lost productivity on your hands every day. 

Plug it: This is often easier said than done, but don’t be late. And don’t tolerate tardiness in others. If an attendee is late for a meeting, start without them and expect them to have the initiative to catch themselves up at an appropriate time. This kind of no-nonsense meeting scheduling will encourage everyone to be on time and hopefully, over time, eliminate the late start. Some companies have a swear jar; start a late meeting jar. Every time someone is late to a meeting, that person must contribute $5 to the kitty. At the end of the month, spend that on a treat for the employees who were always on time. 

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Leak #2: … And routinely run long 

As mentioned above, a meeting that starts late is likely to also end late. This not only falls into the trap of slashing even more time employees spend actually working, but it’s disrespectful to everyone’s time and is incredibly frustrating for those who commonly find themselves in meetings that run over time. 

Plug it: If a meeting hits the end of the time that has been allotted without achieving the original goals, end the meeting anyway. Demonstrate that you respect attendees’ time. You can always schedule another time to finish what was unspoken. In addition, if a situation arises in which the meeting actually reaches a defined resolution before the time limit is up, stop the meeting immediately. Don’t incorporate other topics or nit-pick the decisions that were already settled. 

 

Leak #3: Objectives are not clearly defined 

Sitting down to a meeting that lacks a clearly defined objective and agenda is a waste of everyone’s time. It’s also a slippery slope that can lead to a cycle of blaming and complaining. This is a total morale killer for everyone in attendance and one of the most dangerous bad meeting culture leaks. If the meeting organizer doesn’t walk in with a clear goal, no one will walk out with a strategic resolution.  

Plug it: Make sure every meeting has a purpose. This is a common trap for recurring meetings or meetings that are scheduled “just to catch up.” Every meeting on your schedule should have a clearly defined agenda with detailed points supporting each topic. This helps streamline thoughts and conversation. Meeting attendees should each leave with their own action items to help achieve that common goal. Some companies have explicitly set rules against objective-less meetings. If there are no clearly defined objectives within a meeting invitation, employees are encouraged to decline the invitation. 

 

Leak #4: Over-extending the invitations 

Inviting too many people to the meeting is a common bad habit of busy managers. Instead of scheduling three short meetings with three different people, a manager may choose instead to have one longer meeting with all three people present. The problem here is that the manager has specific objectives for each person that don’t need input from the other team members, who end up just waiting their turn for their time with the boss. This wastes everyone’s time (except for the meeting organizer). Another common pitfall is inviting attendees who aren’t directly involved in the planned meeting objectives. Those who are not critically important to the meeting can spend their time better elsewhere. Not to mention, the more people involved, the longer a meeting will take. 

Plug it: Do not be selfish with your time or others’. And don’t let others be selfish with yours. It’s okay to turn down a meeting invitation or raise a question if you think you are not a critical element to the conversation. Conversely, always ask yourself if everyone you invite to your meetings is a valuable and necessary asset to the success of the meeting. Everyone present should have the expertise and authority to act on whatever is discussed. 

 

Leak #5: The hostile conversation takeover 

I’ve been in plenty of meetings that have been derailed by “the talker.” By that I mean the person who seems to have input on every point raised, whether or not they are adding value. Even worse is the person who routinely talks over others when trying to get their point across. It doesn’t take long for a meeting to devolve into chaos and attendees’ annoyance to skyrocket when people are talking over each other. Women in particular report they constantly struggle to be heard in meetings because of instances of men interrupting or talking over them. In fact, a recent study by George Washington University found that when men were talking to women, they interrupted 33 percent more often than when they were talking to men. Whereas the women in the study rarely interrupted their male counterparts. 

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Plug it: Know what kind of a meeting attendee you are. Many corporate professionals use tests like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to precisely determine the traits they may not have even known they posses. The goal is a new level of self-awareness and awareness of the personality types of others you work with to foster a greater harmony among different personalities. It’s been found that many company big wigs fall into five of the 16 Myers Briggs defined personalities. Are you one of them?  

Regardless of your personality type, before raising a point in a meeting, ask yourself two questions: Am I adding value? Am I interrupting? If the answer is “yes, but …” let me stop you right there. Leslie Shore writes for Forbes 

“Are you interrupting to become the speaker and gain power? How will you look to everyone else in the room? Are you interrupting to get clarity? If so, make sure you ask a clear question and allow the speaker to regain the floor. Are you interrupting because you think you will forget what you want to say? Jot key words on your notepad for use later, instead of interrupting.” 

Some companies have grown so tired of interruptions they’ve instituted a talking stick. Only the person with the stick in their hand has permission to speak, ensuring only one voice is heard at a time. 

 

Leak #6: Too many meetings 

Picture this: Jim sits down at his desk first thing in the morning and opens his office calendar. He sees that in addition to the three planned meetings he had scheduled, he also has a request for two additional ad-hoc meetings to discuss on-going projects with coworkers. The day goes by in a blur of phone conferences and in-person meetings. When one meeting runs late, Jim rushes into the next one, setting off a chain reaction of late meetings and stress. Jim leaves each meeting with a list of new objectives or corrections to current work he must complete before the next meeting scheduled in a few days. Now it’s 5 p.m. and Jim has had only a few non-sequential hours to get any real work done throughout the day. To the chagrin of his wife and kids, it looks like Jim will be working late into the evening again to make up for lost work and execute on new plans from the day’s meetings. 

Plug it: A culture of too many meetings is not a good work environment for employees or overall business objectives. Meetings suffer because back-to-back meetings often run late, creating stress. Work suffers because there is so little time during the day to buckle down and make significant progress. Tasks are rushed or completed by exhausted employees. Employee morale suffers when they find themselves regularly working late and missing out on family or social activities and obligations. Meetings are an unavoidable, valuable, and necessary part of business, but they shouldn’t be all of business. Foster an office culture in which meetings are treated with value and limited as much as possible. Encourage employees to accept no more than three meetings a day. This leaves time for them to complete necessary tasks during standard work hours. 

 

Meeting culture bonus 

Work to eliminate these six of the worst meeting habits to create a meeting culture at your company that is productive, healthy, and sustainable. Wondering how you can take it from good to great? Bring your meeting culture up to the modern expectations of 2018 with a full Meeting Management solution.

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