Improve team meetings
Improve team meetings


Meetings: Is it possible to improve a necessary evil?


First ask yourself, “How much time do managers typically spend in meetings”?

The answer, at least according to a quick Google search, might surprise you. Although the amount of time spent in meetings varies depending on the research one looks at, typically, executives spend 50% of their time in meetings and middle managers spend 33%.

Complementary research, from the University of North Carolina, is both surprising and disturbing. Work by Rogelberg et al. (2007) revealed the following:

A staggering 65% of meeting participants expressed that meetings interrupt their workflow, while an even larger 71% deemed meetings as both unproductive and inefficient. To top it off, 64% revealed that meetings are robbing them of valuable time for deep thinking and reflection.

What can we do to improve things for the better?

The following suggestions are based on my own experience, most of which is from a long time ago. Based on your own experiences, do you feel that these suggestions are still valid today? And are there other points you’d add to factor in our digital world?

1. First, get the basics right!

Start by critically evaluating how you currently run your meetings.

  • Do you invite the right people to participate?
  • Do you sometimes include others who do not need to be there for every meeting to bring in a new perspective?
  • Does everybody have to be there for the full meeting or just part-time?
  • Do you have absolute clarity around the agenda, give participants enough time to prepare, start and finish on time, have comprehensive minutes issued shortly after the meeting, with clear action points as to who should do what, by when, and hold each team member accountable for their agreed actions? 
  • Do you periodically canvas participants to see how your meetings could be improved?

2. Model the communication behavior you want to encourage and/or eliminate from your meetings.

Early in my tenure running a group of food companies, we brought in a skilled human resources specialist to help with our team communication skills. Over two days of a long weekend, our excellent facilitator provided us with plenty of useful learning opportunities to do role plays that allowed us to learn the do’s and don’ts of effective communication as a team.

Here is a quick overview of the team communication skills we were taught. They helped to make our meetings significantly far more productive and at the same time a lot of fun. Nothing complicated here and it’s easy to learn!

Defence/attack behaviour 

Keep an open mind for innovative ideas and avoid the highly destructive cycle of attack/defence behavior, be it of ideas and/or the differences arising from team diversity.


“What a crazy idea—it will never work!”

“We’ve tried that before and it never worked.”

Control any one person who is being too dominant. 

Control too much proposing by any one person, especially the leader, and ensure that you bring the less vocal and introverted team members into any dialogue.

Test understanding 
Make sure there is no ambiguity or misunderstanding during or after the discussion.


“Let me summarise and see if I am hearing you correctly. You think we should significantly cut expenses and you feel that the best way to do this with the least harm to morale would be to temporarily put everyone on a four-day week, including management, until this crisis is over, rather than letting anybody go?”


Pull things together and summarize, particularly after lengthy or complicated discussions.

“Perhaps summarization is not the ability to produce insight, but rather the ability to recognize what other people will experience as insight.”

Build—encourage building on others’ ideas.

Look for opportunities to build on others’ idea [s], as opposed to suggesting another idea oneself. This is one of the most powerful and most underused communication skills.


“That’s a brilliant idea Joan and if we combine it with our next trade show, we could get even more mileage from our customers.”

Why did this training initiative with that human resources specialist have such positive results?

Looking back on it, this training initiative was particularly effective because other important variables were closely aligned.

1. After completing the training, we shared a common language. 

After going through the training together, we had developed a common language and rules for meetings, against which we could benchmark ourselves.

2. We reinforced this new way of communicating. 

The embedding of this new shared language and behaviour was further reinforced by doing a quick evaluation after each meeting. Participants were given laminated pocket-sized cards that summarized the key behaviors. These cards were then used at the end of a meeting to evaluate, in a non-accusatory way, both good and bad behaviour.

3. We had a supportive culture and values.

“It’s the pride inside that set us apart.”

Several crucial new hires—primarily young and smart marketing people—brought a new energy and fresh thinking to every meeting. At the same time, these new hires were also able to build on and respect the knowledge and wisdom of much longer-serving existing staff, which in turn built mutual respect and team cohesion.

Our unique culture was reflected in our company slogan: It’s the pride inside that set’s us apart. We considered ourselves a little like the character from the acclaimed series of children’s books featuring Thomas the Tank Engine. Like Thomas, we had a “can-do” attitude. We were humble, but also possessed quiet pride, confidence, and the belief that we were just as good as the vaunted multinationals.

Results over a 5-year period proved that we were just as good or even better than the multinationals. Early success helped build confidence. 

4. We made time for fun, both during and after our meetings.

Our meetings, particularly our quarterly meetings, usually held outside the office, provided plenty of opportunity to laugh, problem solve, brainstorm innovative ideas, and celebrate the joy of winning.

Not surprisingly, we often combined these meetings with some “R and R” on the golf course!

5. We had a supportive board.

We were blessed with a supportive board, which gave us lots of room to explore, make mistakes, and innovate. This was very much appreciated and respected. I also personally had two great bosses who listened well and gave great advice and encouragement.

Something to consider: Will AI replace meetings?

In the age of AI being adopted in nearly every major sector of the economy and given the easy access to ChatGPT, will meetings become a thing of the past?

ChatGPT can indeed do amazing things. In order to stay relevant in your sector, you might want to read this recent HBR post (Clark & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2023) talking about the threats posed by AI and what you can do about it.

Innovative, imaginative, face-to-face meetings provide uniquely human opportunities to tap into our emotions and the power of connecting with colleagues and coming up with amazing new ideas that can’t be replicated (at least for now!) by AI.

What do you think about the future of meetings and the role AI will play?


Clark, D., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2023, April 25). 5 ways to future-proof your career in the age of AI.

Perlow, L. A., Hadley, C. N., & Eun, E. (2017). Stop the meeting madness. Harvard Business Review, 95(July/August), 62–69.


The FAIRLAUNCH is scheduled for February 16th at 10:00 AM UTC.

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reading your stats Tim brings this quote to mind "Meetings are an addictive highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other organizations engage in ..." Dave Barry :-) I wont finish the quote. TBH for me I ask the question before proposing a meeting - is it absolutely necessary - can the goal of the meeting be achieved using another tool i.e. memo / procedure / email / phone call or one on one conversation- if all avenues point to no - then cautiously I'll propose that meeting! :-) Guidelines above considered

tim rooney Mike

Thanks Michael - totally agree - if one can find a way to get what you want done without a meetimg - so much the bettrr .Meetings are their most productive when you can - explore, innovate and celebrate


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Bill Hutton

Thanks for sharing, Tim. Good advice on making the most of meetings. Thankful for self-employment.