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Meeting in the Middle

Meetings are a bit of a double-edged sword, aren’t they? They’re amazing for relationships; you can get to know people - colleagues, managers, clients, sponsors, friends - better and make the authentic human connections that are so desperately important nowadays. You can clarify boundaries, set objectives, build budgets, and get a back-and-forth dialogue going that can’t be achieved through texts and emails, delivering information quickly, so you can get back to work. But if you have too many meetings, there is no “back to work.”


According to a study conducted by MIT, in recent years, employees have been spending more and more time in meetings to compensate for a “lack of in-person interaction,” thanks to an increase in employees working from home. But the demand from jumping from one meeting to the next can lead to feeling stressed, under surveillance, or even just "people-fatigue". Introverts especially might feel the pressure from constant meetings.

So before we give in to "meeting mania", let's offer a couple of key tips to make meetings, well, less manic.


What Meetings Should We Have? 

Meetings aren’t bad! But meetings for meetings' sake are definitely a drain on resources. 

What to do?  Focus on the meetings that matter most.  

At Your Clear Next Step, we designate meeting time for things like the following:

  • Critical conversations that need a dialogue to come to a clear, agreeable, and swift conclusion
  • Conversations where we need to brainstorm ideas or problem-solve together
  • Informational sessions where multiple people need to encounter the same information at the same time, and have real-time back-and-forth dialog about it
  • Regular updates where we can visibly demonstrate accountability forward progress towards common goal

What's the benefit?  By narrowing your focus to the meetings that matter most, you can: 

  1. Save almost $25,000 annually per employee
  2. Deliver about 25% more projects in a year
  3. Save almost 322,000 working hours per year
    This data is from a 2022 study from the University of North Carolina by Professor Steven Rogelberg. 


What Should We Do In Our Meetings? 

Once we've made time for our meetings, we should take care to make sure that they are run effectively!  I'm a trained meeting facilitator, I often chuckle at the irony - I'm blissfully married to an amazing man who believes that [poorly run] (he would leave off the clarification) meetings are among the cruelest things you can do to other humans in the workplace! Bad meetings drag on, they cause repeat meetings, and they drag people down.

So, we've got some pretty high standards around here for how good meetings should be run. We try to do things like...

  • Starting on time, stopping on time
  • Making sure that technology is set up to do what it should do when and how it should do it
  • Ensuring that participants are prepared in advance with the right tools and the right information
  • Using a "parking lot" to help set other important topics aside so we can focus on what matters most right now
  • Clarifying that everyone is ready with the same objectives and expectation for the meeting (this last one is non-negotiable!)
We recommend the use of meeting norms to help ensure that all participants have a safe meeting space.

What to do?  Make sure that during our meetings we're respectful of one another, and that we stay focused on the content that will drive us towards our objectives. 

What's the benefit? When participants feel safe and engaged, meetings tend to not last as long, so we can get back to our desks, having accomplished what we set out to accomplish - the first time - in less time, and feeling good about our meeting time together.


What About the Space Between Meetings? 

Have you noticed that some folks really enjoy moments of quick conversation between meetings?  Anyone remember the fun of the hallway chat on the way back from the meeting? Or how about the folks who really need quiet time between meetings to complete their action items and recharge? What do you do with any of that? Turns out, you can honor both!

What to do? Create opportunities for employees to have personal meetings - with or without others!

  • At Your Clear Next Step, we've set up flexibility for people to create brief, scheduled personal chats between team members, where work is not the focus. This way, we have scheduled opportunities to build authentic human connections with one another, without sacrificing the time we're supposed to be working on our client deliverables! It's like the old "hallway conversations," only, since many of us work remotely, we don't walk down the hall together. 
  • And we've also set up personal working time, where an individual can set aside time for themselves to do a task, unbothered by others, and stick to it. This way, that individual can get much-needed relief from their meetings, and have focused work time, guilt-free! 

What's the benefit? By formalizing the freedom to create the schedule that individuals need to adjust to what they like most (or least) about meetings, we can meet in the middle. We can enjoy the benefits, without getting caught in the misery.


We've written for years about effective meetings, to look back on prior blogs, check here. To peruse our library of training related to meeting management or facilitation, including on-demand options, check here.  This particular topic came up because we got curious when we saw that Shopify canceled all their meetings, and we wanted to learn more.  What strikes you as interesting about your meeting habits these days? I'd love to have you engage with us on social media?  What can you do to help meetings make your workdays even better?



Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Meeting Management & Facilitation

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! contactus@yourclearnextstep.com








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