Making Meetings More Productive

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Making Meetings More Productive

May 12, 2015

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

I can’t get any work done. My firm is obsessed with meetings, organizing them for every little thing. Management thinks these meetings open the lines of communication when in fact all they do is detract us from what we need to do. Often, assignments come out of the meetings but we aren’t given any time to complete them. Then we have a meeting for why people aren’t as productive as they should be. You can advise me to work longer and stay later to get things done, but at a certain point I can’t stay anymore and I can’t work later. I have a family and my own commitments. How do I stop the madness without looking like I’m not a team player? The last time a colleague of mine opted to stay at her desk and work instead of going to yet another unnecessary meeting, our boss spent the first 10 minutes talking about “insubordinate” people who don’t realize the importance of communication at the firm. It was obvious he was talking about her, and we all got the message that we better show up – or else.

Dave C.


Dear Dave,

Wow! This is a dramatic case of good intentions (“open communication”) gone seriously awry. I understand your pain. I am amazed at the number of non-productive meetings that firms, small to large, are willing to have day after day with no measurable outcomes. It’s not only unproductive, but your note to me has an undercurrent of stress as well: do you opt to miss a meeting and find yourself the subject of the meeting as a result, or do you go to the meetings and leave the work undone? It’s definitely a no-win position.

I’m not sure how much of an impact you can have from your position. I don’t know enough about the dynamics in your firm. Here are a few “best practices” we have developed over the years. Perhaps if you suggested one or two of them to your boss in the interest of BOTH communication and productivity, he would be willing to try a different approach.

  1. Never have a meeting without an agenda and clear expectations of who, what and when. Circulate the agenda in advance. Assigning the “who” can help with who needs to attend. Often times you find you can release people if they aren’t actively involved in the subject matter.
  2. Give people to-dos before the meeting. Have them complete a piece of the assignment, bring new information or present an idea to be implemented. This way the meeting becomes more of a working session instead of just a “discussion”. If there are assignments outside of the meeting, it can also help with scheduling. This is another way to get more time between meetings as you prepare things for the next meeting.
  3. Never, ever, ever have a meeting longer than 90 minutes. There is research that shows our attention span goes down significantly and we cannot productively contribute. I think the best meeting is 50 minutes so that you give people time to get to their next meeting if they are scheduled back to back!
  4. Assign a note-taker and timekeeper. Have someone follow up with notes and next steps from each meeting, including what, who and when assignments. Have the timekeeper look at the allocations on the agenda and keep discussions on track for each and every area.
  5. When invited to a meeting, ask for what a successful outcome will be. Don’t be rude or aggressive, of course. Simply ask, “What does success look like to attendees of this meeting? I just want to be sure I am prepared.” Sometimes just by asking the question, you get people to think more about what they are doing.

Good luck!

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