Stop Wasting Time: How to Create More Effective Project Meetings

The time and resources spent planning, running and following up on meetings should not be minimized. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses approximately $3.7 billion a year.
By Jorgen Solberg
September 29, 2019

Time spent in meetings has increased 8% to 10% annually since 2000, with senior executives spending an average of 28 hours in meetings each week (21 hours for middle managers), according to consultant Bain & Co.

This untenable increase is made worse by ineffective meetings. Seventy-one percent of senior managers told Harvard Business Review their meetings were unproductive and, in a different study, 73% of people said they “multitask” during meetings. More than 90% of respondents in that same survey admitted to daydreaming instead of focusing on the meeting conversation.

Ineffective meetings are the result of many factors, such as poor planning, lack of participant preparation and incomplete outcome tracking. The time and resources spent planning, running and following up on meetings should not be minimized. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses approximately $3.7 billion a year.

However, a greater potential business risk is poor decision-making within meetings, which can have far broader implications to employee morale and financial performance.

Project meetings are particularly challenging because they often bring together employees across multiple workstreams, where the risk to implementation and financial performance is significant. Here are six tips for project leaders looking to organize more successful meetings.

1. Create an Effective Agenda

Studies suggest that following a detailed agenda can decrease the amount of time spent in meetings because it illustrates that meetings without an agenda or with a sparsely populated one often mean attendees don’t need to meet at all.

Select topics that affect the entire team.

Establish clear objectives for each topic.

Include supporting points and links to relevant materials.

Add questions for attendees to consider or answer.

Assign presenters.

Be precise in allocating time to each subject.

2. Collaborate in Advance of the Meeting

Meeting organizers can work with meeting participants to jointly build the agenda, creating a sense of ownership among all attendees. This requires more than sending an email calling for topics. Participant-suggested topics should follow the guidelines for creating an effective agenda, including not just the topic, but also the objective, support points, links to relevant materials, etc.

Team collaboration platforms are also a great avenue for discussions. Companies using Office 365 can use Microsoft Teams, while others might
use Slack.

3. Distribute Materials Ahead of Time

Share the agenda and related materials at least 24 hours in advance to give attendees time to prepare their thoughts and questions.

Spend at least 15 minutes reading the materials and jotting down questions and comments ahead of time. Organizational behavioral studies have shown people over-rely on their gut when making decisions. Preparing in advance will lead to more productive conversations and thoughtful decision-making.

4. Recap Tasks and Decisions

At the end of the meeting, verbally recap tasks and decisions so participants are clear on outcomes and next steps. Immediately add tasks to the project tracker, whether that’s an Excel document or online solution like Microsoft Planner, and then include them in the meeting minutes.

5. Send Follow-Up Notes Immediately

Take minutes during the meeting and send them the same day so information is fresh in attendees’ minds. Tip: OneNote is a great way to manage minutes, in addition to writing them directly as a reply to the meeting invite.

Effective meeting minutes do not have to be lengthy. The best minutes are organized by agenda topic, with tasks and decisions highlighted so team members can quickly review them after the meeting.

6. Manage Outcomes

What’s discussed in one meeting is often forgotten until the next. All documented tasks should be assigned to a specific person. Spend the first 10 minutes of the next meeting going through the previous meeting minutes and action items.

by Jorgen Solberg

Decisions extends Office 365 with a powerful meeting management solution that enables users to plan, organize and run successful meetings. It's ideal for leadership teams, project teams, boards of directors and others who meet regularly.

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