Fix painful company meetings: 6 common problems, and their solutions

Meetings can be…draining. Sometimes, it seems like they’ll never get better; just talking in circles, not getting anything done with no momentum to move the team forward.

If you want to break the cycle, here’s some exciting news: You absolutely can. But first, you have to identify the root of the problem. Check out these six common meeting problems, and some actionable fixes you can implement to see improvement.

Problem #1: Participants check out

We’ve all been there—you’re describing an important issue, and you watch as someone’s eyes glaze over. Maybe they even start doodling. It happens! There are a number of reasons people mentally check out of meetings, but most of the time, it’s because you’ve got the wrong people in the meeting.

That’s not to say they’re bad employees; If you’ve hired the right people, they care about performing well, and they care about issues that impact their work. But if they’re in a meeting that isn’t relevant to them, can you blame them for drifting off?

Solution: Invite the right people
If you find that people are mentally checked-out during meetings, reevaluate the way you decide who needs to be there. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Who needs to be here? Why?
  • How will this person contribute to the discussion?
  • Who will the outcome of this meeting measurably impact?

Problem #2: The meeting has no clear purpose

If you don’t have a clear purpose, no one will know what the meeting is supposed to accomplish. If you don’t know what the meeting is supposed to accomplish, the meeting will go in circles, discussions will get hijacked, and the cycle continues.

Solution: Have an agenda
Agendas give meetings purpose, shape and focus. As one columnist put it, “A meeting without an agenda is like a restaurant dinner without a menu.” When you send the agenda ahead of time, it allows your team to come prepared, maximizing your time together while setting clear boundaries for discussion. You’ll be shocked at how much farther you get when you’re all looking at the same map.

Problem #3: Getting derailed

We’re only human, after all—and social animals, at that. Everyone loves a good chat! Extroverts in particular are brilliant rabbit trail chasers, and if you’re not careful, you could get pulled along with them.

A good meeting should only has one conversation going on at a time, and it should stick to the agenda. If not, the meeting becomes unfocused, and sucks energy from what would otherwise be a productive conversation.

Solution: Call each other out (with love)
Recognize the value of calling an Ace an Ace. Establish a ground rule that all discussion sticks to the agenda, and agree that anytime discussion starts to stray, it gets called out. Give everyone permission to be ruthless about it, too! That’s it—easy, right? Well, maybe not. After all, business is personal, and it takes time to build the level of trust required to do this. To ease the tension, cushion your call-outs with love. Say things like, “I love what you’re saying, but,” or “That’s interesting—I want to hear more about it later.” As long as it’s coming from a place of respect, your team is bound to follow suit.

Problem #4: Painful meeting setting

Sometimes it’s not the meeting, but the environment you’re in. Coworkers keep popping their heads in to ask a “quick question,” or the noise from next door leaks through the wall, or the thermostat never seems to work. Maybe the room is drab, or the chairs are uncomfortable. Even the best meetings can be lousy if you’re stuck in a bad meeting space.

Solution: Find a place that works for everyone
Find a quiet, comfortable, well-lit environment that’s free from distractions. When everyone is comfortable and undistracted, productivity skyrockets. You’ll be surprised what a big difference it makes!

Problem #5: Starting late, ending late

Lateness is a vicious cycle. If you start late, your meetings will be less productive. And you’ll be training your employees to arrive late, which means you’ll push start times back even farther. Which means they get less and less productive. And if you end late, it eats up valuable work time. And if participants they have back-to-back meetings, they’ll either be late to the next one, or leave early from yours.

Solution: Delegate follow-up actions
For every decision you reach in the meeting, assign an owner to it. Discuss things like:
  • What do we need to make this happen?
  • Who’s going to do what?
  • When does it need to be done by?