Team meetings, client meetings, stakeholder meetings, planning meetings; sometimes your day is filled with back-to-back meetings and there is no time to get anything done! You are left exhausted, with a long list of actions and requests for follow-up meetings . As a business essential, is there a way to be more productive and avoid meeting fatigue?
Why are Meetings a Business Essential?
Whether online or in person, meetings bring together people for collaboration, sharing and learning. They are essential to ensure everyone is working towards agreed goals. Attendance is an opportunity to express ideas, make decisions and address issues. It can also support relationship building, trust and consistency.
So, if there are so many benefits to meetings, why do many of us let out an internal sigh when we receive another meeting request?
There are several reasons at the heart of meeting fatigue.
Firstly, some meetings are a waste of time. There is no clear purpose, it drags on and the dominant few prevent others from contributing. You come away knowing that nothing will result from the discussions and you could have spent the hour more productively.
Secondly, some days are full of meetings. You start engaged, enthusiastic and keen to contribute, but your energy wanes, your brain feels as if it can’t process more information and stress accumulates.
Thirdly, the wrong people are in the room. Either the conversation isn’t directly relevant to you and you feel like a spare part, or someone that needs to be present to inform discussions, or for decisions to be made, is missing.
How to Get More from Meetings
To get more from meetings, we need a defined purpose, the right people and a structured process.
- Why is it important to bring people together at this point?
- What is the desired outcome of the meeting?
- Is a meeting the best option or could is there an alternative? In the case of imparting knowledge, would a video message or document be more appropriate? If gathering insight or feedback, is a survey suitable?
- Whose input would be valuable and why? Be inclusive, with representation from all who are relevant to the discussion and implementation of the desired outcome.
- Who doesn’t need to be involved and why?
- Meetings shouldn’t be dominated by the loudest voices. Everyone who is invited to attend should be allowed to contribute and their ideas listened to.
- Create and circulate an agenda.
- Set and stick to the agreed timeframe – short, frequent meetings are often more effective than a lengthy one!
- Share information or present questions in advance to enable attendees to research and prepare. Then, you benefit from considered ideas, rather than the first thing that springs to mind.
- Allow time at the end of the meeting to agree actions, including who will do them, by when and how they will inform other meeting attendees.
It is more likely that the desired outcomes will be achieved when attendees understand the purpose of the meeting, feel involved and see that it results in action. There is another factor that can boost engagement and lower meeting fatigue, but it may be contrary to expectations.
One Step to Avoid Meeting Fatigue
Back-to-back meetings are not productive. What’s more, there is evidence to prove it. The Microsoft Research team are interested in studying human interactions with technology. As the rise in remote working has resulted in many employees sitting in on back-to-back meetings, they wanted to test the impact on the brain.
By recording electrical activity in the brain, their studies reveal growing stress and withdrawal as the day progresses. In addition to the growing sense of overwhelm, which affects an individual’s ability to concentrate and contribute, there were pressure peaks at transition times. Will the meeting end in time? Have I got the login information for the next meeting? Who is that next meeting with and what is it about? It means they can’t focus on the conclusions/action points of one meeting and aren’t at their best when they start the next.
Fortunately, the Microsoft Research* also found a simple solution. Scheduling breaks between meetings helps to reset the brain. If the time is spent away from the screen; relaxing, moving or rehydrating, stress is reduced and the individual has time to mentally prepare for the next meeting.
Although this study evidences the impact of online meetings, it’s clear to see that scheduling breaks between in-person meetings can bring the same benefits. So, back-to-back meetings aren’t the most efficient use of time, we need breaks to be productive.
Workplace Workshops, Webinars & Training
Many of these factors apply as much to workplace workshops, webinars and training as they do to meetings.
When delivering sessions, I focus on the purpose, people and process, as well as how to optimise engagement. Breaks are factored in, as well as using a variety of media to help communicate the core messages. The workshops and training involve everyone in the room, as we all learn and develop together. Then actions are set to ensure the learning is implemented.
It all comes down to using time and resources effectively and maximising the benefits of bringing people together. That is essential for business success.