Meetings can make or break a project. They can galvanise a team, making sure every job is assigned, discussed and ultimately done. Or they can demotivate, confuse and complicate matters, meaning the work heads downhill fast.
This is common knowledge, however something that many team leaders fail to address. We recently conducted research which found that over a third (36 per cent) of meetings in the UK are deemed unproductive by the employees attending them. This means that we each spend over two and a half weeks every year in useless meetings on average.
So, how can we re-claim control of our meetings and make sure they don’t descend into an unproductive, uninspiring mess?
1. Involve the whole team
The vast majority of us, 94 per cent, use meetings as a time to multitask. Busy schedules have led to meetings becoming an opportunity for catching up on emails, instead of focusing on the task at hand.
If you want to make the most of the brain power at your disposal, make an active effort to involve all team members in the meeting.
Two in five (41 per cent) employees say that the meetings they attend are dominated by just one or two characters, with everyone else taking a back seat.
Ask the room for input at specific points and welcome alternative opinions for discussion. You may need to make the final call, but including everyone in the debate will mean that you’ll be far more likely to reach a collective agreement and the team will be motivated to deliver the plan as a result.
2. Keep eye contact where possible
Without everyone’s full attention, it won’t be long before a meeting loses momentum. Our research found that over half of UK meetings are primarily used to decide that another meeting should be scheduled - the vicious cycle of unproductive meetings.
When presenting a new plan or brief to the team, making eye contact can go a long way to ensuring everyone in a meeting is paying attention. It may be tempting to focus on a document, especially if you aren’t as prepared as you should be, however people will soon lose interest and start thinking about other work, not what’s being addressed in the room.
Obviously this can be harder when the meeting is taking place via a video connection or a conference call. In these cases, engage everyone by actively using team member’s names when calling for input. If someone has gone quiet for a long time, ask them if they have anything to say on a particular point.
3. Put the smartphones away if it’s not meeting related
A particular adversary of the productive meeting is the smartphone. If you find attendees are constantly glued to their emails instead of contributing, it’s worth suggesting that the team leaves their phones at their desks for key meetings. This way, meetings will be more efficient as there will be less chance of a diversion from the subject which needs discussion.
There are occasions when the use of smartphones can add to a meeting - for example, when the device is used as a collaborative voting function within the meeting. However if you’re not using such tools, leave them out entirely.
4. Be wary of your body language
We’ve all heard the old saying "it’s not what you say; it’s the way you say it". This principle can be applied when conducting business meetings.
People read a lot from your body language. If you are perceived to have taken up a negative position, this can be used as evidence of your mentality towards that meeting. For example, crossing your arms can be interpreted as you being resistant or closed off. Similarly, slouching on your seat can translate to a lack of respect for the speaker at the time and communicates an apathetic attitude.
Adopting an engaged position, (head up, with your arms and legs uncrossed) will convey an openness to being approached, which will encourage the wider team to be open in return, offering their thoughts and opinions.
At the same time, be aware of going too far the other way. Striking so called "power poses" can create an unbalanced relationship between you and the wider team, making them less likely to want to contribute.