Are your meetings creating valuable new insights for the business or are they a series of multitasking-filled monologues? Are they productive conversations about key business issues or a rehashing of the same stuff you’ve been talking about for months? Are your meetings getting better or worse? Answer the sample questions found in the box above. A score of three or more “Nos” indicates an opportunity to dramatically improve the efficacy and productivity of your meetings.

A meeting can be defined as a gathering of two or more people featuring collective interaction and engagement using conversations to make progress toward a purpose. Note the use of the words “interaction” and “conversations” in the definition. If you find yourself in meetings and especially teleconferences on a regular basis where the format is a primarily one-way presentation, there’s ample opportunity to improve your situation.

Research shows that meetings consume about 40% of working time for managers.

Up to half of the content of meetings is either not relevant to participants or could be delivered outside of a meeting.

  • 20% of meeting participants should not be there.
  • 40% of meeting time is spent on information that could be delivered before the meeting.
  • 50% of meetings executives attend are rated as “ineffective” or “very ineffective.”

There are five critical steps you can follow to help your organization take a more strategic approach to meetings and teleconferences.

1. Conduct a meetings audit

Before you specify new meeting guidelines, it’s helpful to first baseline what’s happening today. Look at factors such as the types of meetings you attend, the frequency of meetings and the length of meetings. Then identify the reasons these meetings exist and if there are any meetings that are not necessary. Once the audit is complete, it provides a bounty of useful information to shape the future state of meetings.

2. Identify current meeting mistakes

Meeting mistakes occur in three phases: pre-meeting, in-meeting and post-meeting. They can also be categorized as either leader or participant mistakes. A common in-meeting mistake by the leader is failing to rein in off-track conversations. A common in-meeting mistake by participants is multitasking, which conveys a lack of interest in the topic and/or a lack of respect for the person speaking at the time. There are approximately 25 mistakes to look for in the three phases to ensure that the group is not sabotaging their own efforts at improvement.

3. Educate managers on what good looks like

Begin this step by collecting the current best practices being used by managers within the organization. Then look externally to see what principles and guidelines are being used by other organizations within and outside your industry as it relates to meetings. Examples of best practice principles include things such as “identify decisions to make in the meeting” and “create a virtual table of participants for teleconferences.” Use these best practices to compile a list of new meeting standards.

4. Use meeting tools

One of the keys to leading effective and efficient meetings is aligning the goals of the meeting with the appropriate tools and processes to get there. For instance, if you’re leading a strategy development meeting, there are more than 70 different strategic thinking tools you can choose from to help your team think and plan strategically. The key is to select the handful of tools that make the most sense based on the context of the team, business goals, competitive landscape, etc. Be clear on your meeting goals and then choose the process and tools to get there.

5. Develop meeting checklists

Research in the social sciences on habits shows that to effectively change someone’s behavior, it’s helpful to provide physical or environmental triggers. One highly effective trigger is the use of meeting checklists. These physical reminders ensure that teams across the organization are aware of the basic meeting principles, techniques, and tools to optimize their meeting time. However, the checklists are only valuable if they are accompanied by the corresponding discipline to utilize them on a consistent basis.

Effective meetings can be energizing forums to help your team set direction, make decisions and unify efforts. Ineffective meetings can be anchors that weigh people down with irrelevant information, didactic presentations and unclear priorities. Which type do you attend today? Do you think it will be different tomorrow?

Rich Horwath is a strategy facilitator, keynote speaker and creator of more than 200 resources on strategic thinking. His latest book is StrategyMan vs. The Anti-Strategy Squad: Using Strategic Thinking to Defeat Bad Strategy and Save Your Plan. www.StrategySkills.com