We’ve all heard the saying, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” While not all meetings are unnecessary, many of them suck up participants‘ time that could have been better spent elsewhere. In particular, as organizations increasingly go virtual, permit time shifting, allow telecommuting, and utilize workers outside the organization or around the globe, assembling employees for meetings is no longer as simple as picking a conference room and setting a time. Meetings need to be called in appropriate circumstances, not willy-nilly. These tips can help you better select which meetings to eliminate and enact strategies to make the meetings you do have more effective.

Meetings to Eliminate

  • Long Meetings: Long meetings kill productivity. Most people have a limited amount of cognitive resources, and when those cognitive resources are depleted on a lengthy meeting that has required focus and participation. After attending a marathon conference, mentally spent team members, colleagues, and employees can wind up making poor decisions or bad choices when they get back to their desks. Most meetings can accomplish their purpose in 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Large Meetings: The more participants a meeting has, the more productivity decreases. Large meetings not only draw multiple employees away from work, but they risk disturbing the focus of the meetings and presenting more opportunities fordistraction as well. Avoid inviting an entire team if just the team leader can attend and then share information with his or her team members. Don’t invite people to a meeting if the meeting topic is only slightly relevant to them. They will likely have very little to contribute.
  • Informational Meetings: Informational meetings should be used sparingly. In most cases, information should be can be presented in an email. Email allows recipients to review information more quickly and on their own time. On occasion, information may be so important that a meeting is needed to ensure that the recipients pay attention or to provide a forum to solicit feedback. However, such meetings should be rare.

Making Meetings More Effective

  • Have a meeting leader. Usually, the person who decided upon the meeting is the leader, however, they may be unavailable or unable to set an agenda and maintain the meeting. Even if the person who called the meeting can’t attend, he or she should provide an outline for an agenda to organize the meeting. The leader should pick someone who is informed enough to lead the meeting, such as the “second in command” of the team leader or somebody knowledgeable in the particular area that is the subject of the meeting.
  • Send important meeting documents to participants the day before. At LinkedIn, meeting presentations have essentially been eliminated completely. Instead, materials that would have been presented during a meeting are sent to participants 24 hours in advance. This gives people time to review and familiarize themselves with information before arriving at the meeting. Less time is wasted catching people up and answering unnecessary questions. Meeting participants will be more informed on the subject matter, enabling a more thoughtful discussion of the subject matter.
  • Allow people to decline meetings. Don’t turn meeting attendance into a primal power struggle. Whether it’s because they have a deadline to meet, another important meeting, or a personal emergency, there may be good reasons why a colleague can’t make a meeting. If a colleague must attend because he or she holds unique knowledge or decision-making authority necessary to move an issue forward, reach out to them and ensure they understand why their attendance is critical. If your colleague’s conflict is of overriding importance, you may need to reschedule the meeting so she can attend. If a declining participant’s presence is merely helpful rather than necessary, however, defer to their decision.
  • Start the meeting on time. Unless it is impossible to proceed without an attendee, start meetings at the agreed upon time. If a key decision-maker is running late, try to rearrange the agenda so you can be productive while waiting on them. Do not review contents of the meeting with those who show up late. Instead, send meeting minutes, notes, or details to those who might have missed something.
  • Choose a direction and stick with it. Define the exact purpose of the meeting ahead of time. Stick to the agenda that has been created making sure you allow time for participation, questions, and discussions. But…
  • Don’t allow meetings to get hijacked. Meeting leaders must keep meetings on track. Don’t allow individuals to dominate the meeting with frequent, endless, off-topic conversation. Avoid letting people repeat something that has already been covered.
  • Recap action items. Spend the last 10 to 15 minutes of the meeting recapping action items. Make sure all participants know what is expected of them and when they are supposed to respond by.
  • End the meeting on time. Even if the agenda has not been finished, ending a meeting on time helps participants return to work sooner. Anything on the meeting agenda that was not covered, or any updates following the meeting, can be sent out in an email or memo. This avoids wasting time with additional meetings.

Not all meetings can (or should) be avoided. But by eliminating the unnecessary ones and improving the flow and productivity of the necessary ones, meetings can be highly constructive and influential. Cutting down on the duration and frequency of meetings and improving meeting quality can help avoid the eye rolls and sighs of attendees impatient to return to their desks.