Workplace Doctor: How to make meetings more meaningful

What to do when ideas presented in meetings hardly ever translate to results

Employees sit in a common area at the Shopify Inc. office in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Shopify Plus, the company's highest-tiered subscription, is attracting migrations from other platforms. In 2Q, more than 50% of customers that were added to the service were new to the Shopify platform. Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg
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I work for a financial services firm and often have to attend meetings where the senior management express their latest ideas. The problem is these ideas are hardly ever translated into actionable decisions, or indeed follow-ups that give me and others an idea of how they wish us to put their views in to practice. It seems to be more a case of them trying to show each other how smart they are and I feel these meetings are a total waste of time. What can I do?

ZH, Abu Dhabi

In many organisations today, people struggle under the sheer volume of meetings they need to attend, often leaving them with a sense it was not time well spent. Indeed, employees spend around 31 hours in unproductive meetings a month, according to software company Atlassian.

Your senior managers may assume that their idea-sharing is for the good of the firm, but may overlook the effect poor execution of those ideas is having on productivity, engagement and focus overall. In today’s business world, where there is constant striving to do more with less, the need for well-run meetings have never been higher to minimise the costly expense of resources and time.

Meetings are vital for effective management and communication in any organisation. When effectively conducted, meetings allow for creative new ideas and initiatives to emerge as well as to improve productivity, increase motivation and save time. Furthermore, they help build relationships and ensure the proper exchange of information. It is therefore important that everyone who attends a meeting fully participate and take ownership of what transpires.

Any meeting should have a clear purpose and desired outcome - such as discussion, planning, decision making or feedback, so it is clear what is expected. The agenda should be shared in advance of the meeting, including any relevant documents to maximise efficacy. It is also important to only invite those attendees who are essential to involve and to close each meeting with clarity on what was agreed upon.

Steve Jobs had a Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) designated to each item on every meeting’s agenda, according to a Harvard Business Review article titled “Two things to do after every meeting”. Not only did he want to set clear instructions, he also knew that public accountability would ensure things got done. The article also stressed the importance of clear and concise notes being sent out after each meeting and that commitments are followed up on to promote continued productivity.


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As this is seemingly not occurring from your senior management, you can take it forward by asking for more of what you need. Firstly, gain clarity about what the expected outcomes of these meetings are. Ask for direction on next steps and allocate responsibilities for these before leaving the meeting. Decide how and when the follow-up will take place and how it will be shared.

You also refer to ideas that are hardly ever transferred into actionable decisions. Without proper execution of the ideas from leadership, they will remain just that - ideas. Effective meetings therefore provide the vehicle to ensure that the right vision and goals are discussed, debated and agreed, as well as establish clear milestones and action items to get there.

As the execution of a plan unfolds, meetings are necessary and important to monitor progress, identify potential challenges, evaluate what is working and what is not, and to make adjustments as and when needed. Meetings also serve as important forums to keep those who are doing the hard work feel connected and aligned to the plan, with updates and the actionable steps to get there. They are extremely useful if undertaken correctly to sustain high levels of motivation and buy-in by acknowledging and celebrating successes along the way.

Doctor's Prescription:

Consider how you may be able to contribute to making meetings more streamlined, meaningful and productive to make better use of everyone’s time and create high impact outcomes. Ask for clarification and direction where you need it and set an example to others by taking ownership and responsibility for actions going forward. Stick to your commitments and keep momentum going with regular follow-ups.