How to have great meetings, according to 200 scientific studies

This is really all the people required?
This is really all the people required?
Image: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
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Americans average six hours per week in meetings. And managers especially spend considerably more time in them. But attendees rate as many as half of the meetings they attend as “poor,” and organizations in the US waste an estimated $213 billion on ineffective meetings annually.

What are the keys to effective meetings? Researchers at the University of Nebraska and Clemson University reviewed almost 200 scientific studies of meetings published in the last decade. Their conclusions, published last year in a Current Directions in Psychological Science journal article, offer a roadmap for getting meetings right.

Based on their review of the science of meetings , here is a checklist:

Before meetings

Meeting Design

  • Call a meeting only when necessary.
  • Schedule meeting length to fit with meeting goals; avoid long meetings.
  • Keep meeting size small by including only those people whose expertise and knowledge are required.
  • Match technology to meeting objectives—use rich media (eg, videoconferencing, teleconferencing) for virtual attendees. 

Leader and attendee responsibilities

  • Set clear goals and desired outcomes for the meeting. Prepare an agenda that is circulated in advance.
  • Make sure the meeting is relevant to everyone invited. Come prepared by reviewing the agenda.
  • Ensure that technology is working and ready to go prior to the meeting start time.

The decisions made prior to a meeting set it up for success. What happens during the meeting is where the real challenge of meeting effectiveness comes into play.

During meetings

Attendee responsibilities 

  • Arrive early (or on time).
  • Avoid complaining, dominating communication behavior, and inappropriate verbal statements.
  • Avoid doing unrelated activities and non-participation. 

Leader responsibilities

  • Follow an agenda that lays out clear goals and outcomes for the meeting.
  • Start the meeting on time.
  • Avoid distractions and multitasking during the meeting. 
  • Allow attendees to participate in the decision-making process. If a decision is already made, let everyone know. 
  • Actively encourage everyone to participate.
  • Intervene when interpersonal communication patterns become dysfunctional.

Much of what we do and think is influenced by the social context and the behavior of others. So, meeting success will be largely shaped by those around us.

After meetings

Research shows that actions taken well after a meeting ends can make or break attendees’ perceptions of meeting success.

Short term

  • Send meeting minutes and action items out immediately following meeting.
  • Briefly assess meeting satisfaction and quality immediately following meetings to inform future meeting design. 

Long term

  • Incorporate meeting satisfaction as a component of organization-wide employee engagement and satisfaction surveys.
  • Have leaders critically examine routine meetings to determine their necessity and value.

Attendees’ satisfaction with meetings isn’t useful only for improving the efficiency of meetings. It’s also a significant predictor of employee job satisfaction and engagement at work.