Berik Visschers

Berik blogs about technology, office work, health and his hobbies.


Better Meetings

by Berik Visschers

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

“Oh no! The status meeting is today; Another two hours of my life utterly wasted.”

“I wish this person to stop talking just for a minute so I can hear anything else but them!”

“Better bring coffee and cookies to this meeting, it is going to last for a while..”

If these thoughts sound familiar to you, you came to the right place.

Did you know that meetings receive the lowest productivity score of all office activities?

Not only that, meetings are also expensive for the company you work for. Lets calculate how much a meeting actually cost your company. Open your calendar and add all the time spend in meetings last week. Then multiply by the average amount of people in those meetings, then multiply by the average hourly rate. I insist you do that now. Calculate the total meeting cost for your team.

The calculated cost is what your company invests into meetings. And what for? To make you feel unhappy? To waste your time? Is it because your company hates its office workers? I don’t believe so.

Besides the company cost, there is also the mental energy cost of meetings. As a meeting participant you can be drained of energy. This cost is harder to calculate, and varies strongly from person to person and meeting to meeting. It is also possible to have meetings that boost mental energy. Can you think back to those meetings? What were their properties?

So why do we have meetings? Meetings are important.

Clearly meetings have many uses. And they are not liked much. Can we untangle this? Is it possible to improve meetings in general? What would a nice meeting be like?

Lets first unpack the overloaded word “Meeting”. In this article, a “meeting” means that a group of people getting together to share their work status, suggest new solutions, interact and discuss, and make decisions.

In this article, the word “meeting” is NOT used for

A Good Meeting

These are attributes of a pleasant meeting.

  1. One Topic
  2. Topic actually needs collaboration now
  3. Only include people absolutely needed
  4. Well Prepared
  5. Equal speaking time
  6. Disagreements are addressed
  7. Care for your invitees
  8. No longer than half an hour
  9. Share the meeting notes

One Topic

Limit the amount of things you want to discuss in the meeting to ONE. This allows you to invite fewer people. The meeting will also be shorter.

Topic actually needs collaboration now

Do not bring people together and ask them to spend time discussing a topic that has no actual problem. This may sound obvious, but think back. I’m sure you can think of discussions that ended with no solution because there was no actual problem in the first place. Avoiding these topics altogether is a big time saver and mental energy booster.

Only include people absolutely needed

Get the number of invites down.


Some of your team members may be impacted by a decision made in the meeting. They surely need to be in the meeting, right?

Not necessarily. They could trust other team members to make the right decision. Invite the people that are trusted (by the others who are impacted) to make the right considerations.

It is helpful to make this trust relation explicit, eg: “As a team, we trust you to keep us informed on the status of …” and “If there is a risk of … we want to hear that from you.”

After the meeting is done, a summary needs to be shared with anyone who may be impacted by the discussed topic. This increases the trust and gives everyone a chance to ask for clarification if they feel its needed.

A practical example: You may want to invite a remote team to discuss an integration project. Stop there. Reach out to the manager of the remote team instead. Ask them to select one of their team members who will be your contact person. Your contact person decides if they need members of their team in a meeting, based on what expertise is needed.

Giving responsibility and trust boosts the team spirit as well as the mental energy.

With fewer persons in a meeting the risk of misunderstandings and unneeded discussions is also reduced.

Well Prepared

The biggest time and mental energy is wasted during meetings by misunderstandings.

I’ve been in meetings where the central topic had to be explained up to three times because attendees did not know the details of what is being discussed (and they got confused or where not paying attention the first and second time). Other attendees get bored or frustrated by all this repetition. They may interrupt the explanation to try and speed it up, causing even more confusion. Avoid this situation at all cost by preparing well.

Prepare as the organizer.

Prepare as a participant.

There is a big difference between a well prepared question and a not-so-well prepared one.

Consider these two questions:

The latter question needed preparation: You needed to figure out what kind of reasonable improvement still yields a much better user experience. It also is a question that unambiguously asks for an answer. The former question, on the other hand, will likely be met with a shoulder shrug, or worse, with a defensive attitude.

Equal speaking time

By sticking to the above principles money and mental energy wasting has been greatly reduced. Now it is time to build up the moral energy into the positive. How can a meeting give mental energy to its participants?

This is one reason why standup meetings are so successful: Everyone gets to say at least something.

If you talk for 80% of the time, don’t have a meeting. Instead prepare a presentation.

We often feel the need to help others by finishing their sentences and filling in their ideas. Especially the leads and managers tend to have this tendency. Cutting others off while they are trying to share their ideas is not going to help them or you. Unfortunately it is not easily recognized when you do it yourself (I speak form experience). Help by interrupting the interruption. Make sure that each participant can make their point uninterrupted until it is understood. Give time to those participants who speak slowly. The goal is to have roughly equal amount of input from each participant.

There is no hierarchy between the meeting participants. Remember that each participant has prepared well and is in the meeting to share their expertise.

Some leaders have the tendency to act like a TV show host. After introducing the topic, they ask a question to one of the participants, repeat their answer and explain it in more detail, then repeat until it is time to wrap up. This communication style has two benefits: The other participants can safely wait until a specific question is asked to them and give the shortest answer possible. The leader has full control over the progress of the meeting and can mute any discussion simply because they own the whole meeting and all what is said within.

Disagreements are addressed

Disagreements are bound to happen, especially during meetings. Follow these steps to make the most out of a disagreement.

  1. Speak up, make it clear that you disagree
  2. Validate, together, that the disagreement is not because of a misunderstanding
  3. Document the arguments
  4. Document the difference in values
  5. Continue with the rest of the meeting

After the meeting, validate your understanding of the different viewpoints. Share a summary of the disagreements.

Keep in mind that each person has their own view and acts out of their own best interest.

Look for common ground. Suggest experimenting one way or the other to find whats best.

Commit to resolving the disagreement and let the others know that you commit to the solution.

Care for your invitees

Care for your invitees, both professionally and personally.

No longer than half an hour

When you step into the room where a 60 minutes meeting will take place, you can sense it. People are being distracted, talking about their weekends, while the person who’ll do most of the talking is very busy looking in their notes and making some last minute adjustments to their slides. These types of meetings are the pain of office life. Often this type of meeting will feature a presentation part and then some interaction between a few of the attendees. There will also be a part of the team that wished they could continue their normal work, and maybe even a part that just continues their normal work during the meeting. Often these meetings are also recurring.

Now there may be very good reasons for a 60 minute meeting. For example when the invitees have to travel far or are otherwise not available for several shorter meetings. If those reasons exist, then inform your invitees about them. Your invitees are more likely to understand why you ask them to sit through it.

Our attention span is only so long. And way shorter than most meetings we are in.

A 15 minute meetings are rated the most effective. Aim for that sweet spot. 15 minutes may sound short but 15 minutes can be more than enough when everyone came well prepared.

How to change your Meetings

1 October 2021