How to create an effective meeting culture

In brief

  • Meetings are a necessary part of professional life, yet U.S. respondents reported that they perceived 71% of the meetings as inefficient.
  • Inefficient meetings cost an estimated $37 billion (only in the U.S.) annually and consume about 15% of an organisation’s time.
  • Common reasons for ineffective meetings include unclear objectives, poor planning, over-attendance, and inefficient time use.
  • Solutions include establishing clear objectives, thorough planning, wise invitation practices, and respecting time constraints.
  • Critical factors for effective meetings include strong leadership, encouraging participation, capturing key points, and proper follow-up.
  • Properly conducted meetings can be powerful platforms for collaboration and innovation, and by addressing common issues, they can become productive and engaging parts of the working day.

A Necessary Inefficiency in the Modern Workplace?

We all know them. We’ve all attended them and, in many cases, lamented them. They are, however, a necessary part of business life. Despite their integral role in our professional lives, they often leave us feeling deflated, frustrated and unproductive. To revitalise our meeting culture, we first must understand the issues plaguing our conference rooms and address them with purposeful solutions.

If you had to identify, in a word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve its full potential, that word would be meetings.

— Dave Barry

Most employees these days, spend a lot of time in meetings. Zippia conducted a study about meetings in the United States. According to their research, 71% of the meetings are seen as unproductive, creating a considerable drain on both time and productivity, with an average employee dedicating three hours or more per week to these gatherings. Worse yet, 65% of employees agree that meetings obstruct them from completing their work.

The financial toll is massive, with an estimated $37 billion lost annually (only in the U.S.) due to inefficient meetings. These sessions consume about 15% of an organisation’s time; alarmingly, 37% of employees view these unproductive gatherings as the highest cost to their organisations. Since the pandemic, a lot of the meetings have moved online. However, 47% of workers still prefer traditional in-person meetings, highlighting an urgent need to review meeting efficiency and efficacy.

In another study from 2019, half the employees said that meetings were mainly a distraction from getting work done.

People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.

— Thomas Sowell

Why are meetings ineffective?

There are many reasons why meetings are ineffective. Here are a few:

  1. Lack of Clear Objectives: Meetings can become aimless and unproductive without clearly defined objectives. Attendees may feel their time is wasted on vague discussions without a clear outcome. Traditional agendas often lack value and fail to enhance the meeting experience. 50% of agendas are just recycled from meeting to meeting.
  2. Poor Planning and Preparation: Meetings without an agenda can quickly go off track. If materials are not shared beforehand or if attendees are not aware of the topic of discussion, the productivity of the meeting will be compromised.
  3. Over-Attendance: Inviting too many participants to a meeting can hinder effective communication and decision-making. With too many voices in the room, critical points may get lost, and decisions can become diluted or delayed.
  4. Inefficient Use of Time: Unnecessarily long meetings not only drain the enthusiasm of attendees but also eat into valuable work time. They may also start late, run over the allocated time, or involve lengthy presentations that leave little room for discussion.

Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always worsen over time. Please get off all large meetings unless you’re sure they are providing value to the whole audience.

— Elon Musk

Addressing the Problems

  1. Establish Clear Objectives: Identify what you aim to achieve before calling a meeting. The goals should be explicit and achievable within the meeting’s time frame. Be transparent with the objectives and ensure all attendees know them.
  2. Plan and Prepare Thoroughly: Meetings should have a clear agenda distributed beforehand. This allows participants to prepare their thoughts, questions, and contributions, keeping discussions focussed and efficient.
  3. Invite Wisely: Only involve those directly related to the meeting’s objectives. Unnecessary attendees can cause meetings to become inefficient and bloated. Implementing a ‘need-to-attend’ basis can reduce crowd size and improve productivity.
  4. Respect the Clock: Time is precious, so ensure your meetings are streamlined and efficient. Start on time, finish on time, and consider allocating specific time slots for different topics or speakers. Where possible, keep meetings as short and focused as possible.
  5. Frame the agenda as questions to be answered.
  6. Remove the chairs

It’s amazing how quickly meetings get over with if no one has a chair or some place to sit

— Mark Cuban

Conducting meetings effectively

While some people will always dread meetings, there are some key factors to address:

  1. Leadership is Key: Effective meetings require strong leadership. A good chairperson keeps discussions on track, encourages participation, and ensures everyone’s voice is heard. They also ensure the meeting sticks to the agenda and finishes on time.
  2. Encourage Participation: To harness the group’s collective intelligence, all attendees should feel comfortable sharing their ideas. Foster an environment encouraging active participation, open dialogue, and respectful listening.
  3. Capture Key Points: Assign someone to note down essential discussions, decisions, and actions for action items, who is responsible and when the task should be documented. There must be clear accountability for all tasks. This ensures clarity and accountability, and these minutes can be shared post-meeting as a valuable reference point.
  4. Follow Up: A meeting’s effectiveness doesn’t end when the conference call disconnects or the door closes. Effective follow-up, including the distribution of minutes and a clear outline of the following steps, ensures that the momentum gained in the meeting isn’t lost.


When conducted properly, meetings can be powerful platforms for collaboration, decision-making, and innovation. By addressing the common issues plaguing many meetings and adopting effective strategies, we can transform them from time-consuming ordeals into productive, engaging, and enjoyable parts of our working day. So, let’s turn over a new leaf in our meeting culture, implementing these tips to unlock the potential that effective meetings genuinely hold.

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