How to recover from a bad meeting

Middle managers spend an average of 35 percent of their day in meetings, while upper management spends more than 50 percent of their day on calls, in meetings, and talking in groups. Are you able to give up a third or half of your day to wasted time and bad meetings? If you’re attending bad meetings, you could be pulling yourself away from actual work.

If you’re leading bad meetings, you could be frustrating attendees and losing the attention of your employees and upper management. Who will want to listen to you if she or he thinks the meeting will be bad?

While not all meetings are going to be perfect, it’s possible to bounce back from an unproductive one. Not only will this meeting guide help restore your relationship with your coworkers and regain your authority when calling on staff, it will also help you move forward when you need to gather people to get work done.

Email team with action items

Just because the meeting itself was bad doesn’t mean nothing should come of it. If you were unable to cover everything you needed during the meeting, send a follow-up email explaining what still needs to be addressed and what assignments need to be tackled. You can also suggest scheduling an additional meeting to finish reviewing the agenda items. Meetings aren’t always disruptive, but that can be unproductive if your team gets distracted or forgets what it discussed.

A follow-up email can also help in this situation. Regardless of the meeting productivity, send an email recapping what was discussed and highlighting tasks your team has to accomplish before the next meeting or before a client deadline. This record will help you keep track of your team and provide a reference for what needs to be done. Plus, your team will never be able to say something wasn’t discussed or it doesn’t remember talking about a topic because it will be referenced in your recap emails.

While most employees try to be professional in an office setting, there are times when conflict arises. Maybe one employee raised his or her voice to another or turned a professional disagreement personal. This makes meetings stressful and can create a toxic work environment if it’s not solved.

If a meeting leads to conflict between one or more individuals, immediately sit with them in private to discuss what happened and how to solve it. The longer you wait, the worse the situation could become. Either your employees will feel like you’re ignoring them or they will use the time to discuss how terrible the meeting was with the rest of the office. While 85 percent of employees have experienced some sort of workplace conflict, only 16 percent were escalated. This is a tribute to professionals who are willing to set aside their problems and managers who work with them as mediators.

Talking with your employees shows you care and want to work toward a solution. During these individual conflict-resolution meetings, take actionable steps toward improvement. What can be done in the future to reduce conflict? It might be better for the whole office if two people don’t work together or if one person is removed from the meeting.

Seek feedback for improvements

If you find your meetings are consistently unproductive, try to figure out why. Talk to the people directly involved and seek out feedback for making them better. You can either do this by addressing the group, speaking to one or two people who attend the meeting, or send out an anonymous survey with suggestions.

Reaching out to third parties for advice can also help fix a bad or boring meeting. Consider inviting your manager or someone from another department to sit in on one meeting and offer his or her advice on how to fix it. This person may see problems you’re unable to and can offer suggestions for improvement. Your meetings don’t always have to run perfectly, but the fact that you’re seeking feedback and trying to improve them can get people on your team to make your meetings run more smoothly.

Fix an unproductive meeting

Some managers will host a weekly unproductive meeting for months before anything changes. During this time, fewer people will attend and those who do will stop paying attention. Less work will get done while the person who calls the meeting gets progressively more frustrated. This is a vicious circle that can easily be stopped. If you find yourself leading unproductive meetings or seem to attend them throughout the day, consider changing these factors to bring productivity back into the office.

Identify why the meeting is unproductive

The first step toward identifying how a meeting can be improved is to see why it’s unproductive in the first place. There are countless reasons for unproductive meetings. Therefore, you may have to try a few different tactics until you figure out what is wrong and what should be changed. Consider a few of these factors below as suggestions for making a meeting better, and then change up the time, attendees, and items discussed to see if there are any improvements.

  • There are too many people involved
  • A key stakeholder doesn’t attend and no decisions can be made
  • The meeting is too broad to cover all the topics
  • The meeting happens too frequently for people to have updates
  • It’s scheduled for an inconvenient time (such as Monday morning or Friday at afternoon)
  • The meeting keeps getting canceled by someone who needs to be there

Sometimes improving a meeting is as simple as changing the frequency or time when it occurs. These suggestions can also guide your decisions when you’re soliciting feedback for what needs to be improved.

Create an agenda and goals beforehand

More than 60 percent of meetings don’t have an agenda, and the average meeting lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. This means that for more than half of meetings people attend, they only have a vague idea about what will be discussed. That’s a recipe for unproductivity and confusion. The level of detail included in your agenda can vary by meeting.

If you’re talking with one or two people about a project, then your agenda could be a small set of bullet points that you need to address. However, if you have a long meeting with a large number of people, consider setting time deadlines for each topic that needs to be addressed. Once a topic reaches its time limit, the meeting leader should either end the debate and come to a solution or move the topic to the end to get solved later. This ensures everything on your agenda is at least discussed, even if a few items aren’t solved.

Make sure you begin every meeting by reviewing the agenda with everyone involved and end the meeting by recapping the agenda and the solutions that came from it. Some offices prefer to do this in recap emails, so even employees that didn’t attend can understand what was discussed.

Consider if the meeting is valuable

If you have taken great strides to improve the productivity of meetings and still find that people fail to attend, get distracted, and tune out what you have to say, consider canceling it entirely. You don’t have to end it on a hard stop but can slowly phase out the meeting by moving it to every other week or pushing it back so it’s only once a month.

If your office is able to keep functioning without it, then it can be canceled altogether. Meetings that might have been useful at one point can lose their value, and it’s perfectly natural to eliminate wasted time to give people their working hours back.

Moving a meeting to the back burner and canceling it for a few weeks can also help your team see the value in it. They might not realize how much gets done during that time, and the small break can encourage your employees to start attending again when their questions and concerned aren’t addressed.

Even the most efficient offices can have unproductive meetings if they’re managed poorly. By following these steps, you can start damage control to fix bad meetings and start leading them better in the future. Creating an agenda and changing the time might seem like small adjustments, but they can add up to big differences in productivity and even lead to your promotion.

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