One thing everyone loves complaining about in the modern workforce is how much meetings suck, but we keep having them. The people who dislike meetings the most, the management and C-level, are the people usually calling for them. So why are we still having so many bad meetings? By now, most of us are familiar with basic meeting etiquette, like starting on time, having an agenda, and an action-driven summary. Are bad meetings just the cost of doing business, or can we systematically improve our meeting experiences and productivity?  We set out to change our meeting culture in startups; here are a few things that can fundamentally improve a meeting.

A Meeting Begins Before It Even Starts

A notepad and a paper with graphs on it next to a computer
A notepad and a paper with graphs on it next to a computer

When it comes to planning a meeting, the first thing that comes to mind is time. Can you guess what the average meeting duration around the world? Unsurprisingly, it’s one whole hour. Sadly, even though this is the norm, there is no evidence showing it is the right amount of time for a productive meeting. It’s likely because of the default settings on calendar apps. The problem is we tend to fill the allotted meeting time whether we need it or not; that is Parkinson’s law.

So what is the optimal meeting time? There is no such thing as an optimal meeting time. Every meeting is different. What you want to do is set the meeting timeslot to how much time you think it needs and subtract 5 minutes. This will likely give you some pressure in time and force you to stay on topic. According to the author of The Surprising Science of Meetings, having some form of pressure to finish on time forces you to focus on what’s important and be more productive.

Then there is the question of meeting attendees. Have you ever been in a meeting, scratching your head, and wondering why you were there? We all have. With virtual meetings, online calendars, and scheduling tools, it is easier than ever to invite anyone to join your meetings. Ironically, people also complain just as much if they get left out at a meeting when they felt like they should’ve been included. So how do we make sure we get the right people for each meeting? The answer lies in a tier meeting system.  

For example, let’s say there is a full staff meeting, which all team members join and report their status, but in the second half of the meeting, you only require those who have an ongoing issue to stay. So the rest of the attendees can drop off and go back to work. This method creates a level of adaptability and efficiency to the otherwise rigid meeting culture.

The last thing to think about before when planning a meeting, of course, is the content. From my experience, merely having an agenda is never enough. Did you know that surveys show that 50% of agendas are reused? Instead of focusing on the agenda of the meeting, communicate, and focus on the purpose of the meeting. A weekly staff meeting is not a purpose, it’s just a meeting category. A purpose should be, for example, to decide which marketing channels to invest in the next quarter. It’s also best to only have one purpose per meeting; this allows everyone to stay focused and not get sidetracked or jump ahead. Also, it reduces the possibility of inviting others to attend who don’t need to be there for its entirety because you are likely to have different function teams.

Run Your Meeting That Builds People Up

An overhead shot of people having a meeting
An overhead shot of people having a meeting

Most of the meetings start with the boss making announcements. I get it; it’s very natural for leaders to give orders. That’s what we think a good leader should do. However, I’d argue you should resist this temptation. Instead, use this time to building connections. For example, if you are running a weekly staff meeting, have each of your teammates share one positive and one negative story from the previous week. It doesn’t even have to be about work. The point here is to let your team talk first and share. This will create a safer meeting environment for everyone, and you will have a group of more engaged meeting attendees.

This leads us to the second most common problem we see in a modern meeting, which is a culture of unhealthy peace. Priya Parker, the author of The Art of Gathering once described this as, “Unhealthy peace can be as threatening to (the) human connection as unhealthy conflict. And most of our gatherings suffer from unhealthy peace, not unhealthy conflict”. In layman’s terms, this is when all your employees are more concerned about kissing asses than solving problems; if this happens, the end of your company is within sight. The fastest-growing company has a passionate meeting culture. You want people attending meetings to feel comfortable sharing their ideas and criticizing others. The reason for a meeting is because there are problems that a single individual can’t solve. It requires collective effort and input to come up with a solution. 

So how do you break the unhealthy peace if you have it in your company’s meeting culture?

The proven tactic is first creating a safe space. After that, you force each attendee to take sides on an issue. Then have them defend their stand and attack the other side. This exercise can be done more than once on multiple topics. The more you are introducing healthy conflicts within your startup’s meeting culture. Sooner, your team will realize it is okay to speak up and play devil’s advocate on an idea.

End a Meeting With Meaning

Three women sitting on a couch and having a meeting
Three women sitting on a couch and having a meeting

Just like starting a meeting, ending a meeting is incredibly important, and people often get it wrong. Most of us will end the meeting with a to-do list for everyone. This might sound like a good idea on the surface, but it only serves the meeting host, not the team. Instead, first, do a last-call before you end the meeting. Give everyone a chance to speak and contribute before you adjourn the meeting. Now instead of focus on reading off a to-do list, remind each one of them the purpose of the meeting. State the one thing you want them to remember. 

For example, instead of reminding your sales team to send our follow-up emails, setup sales calls, and update reports, remind them you are counting on them to build trust in your company with your most important investors and your customers. When your team understands the purpose and their impact, they figure out the details and the steps.

Now Go Run Your Next Meeting as if Your Company Depends On it

People shaking hands after a meeting
People shaking hands after a meeting

Don’t take bad meetings as a cost of doing business. Turn bad meetings into opportunities to improve your bottom line and build a stronger winning culture.

What other tips and insights do you have when it comes to running a meeting for entrepreneurs? Leave a comment below and share it with our entrepreneur community.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.