The 7 Secrets To Make Meetings Less Awful

A day full of meetings will leave a bad taste in your mouth. Unless you follow these steps.

The 7 Secrets To Make Meetings Less Awful
[Sitting in a Circle: Camilo Torres via Shutterstock]

Some companies have abandoned the whole idea of a meeting. But if your schedule is still saturated with them, here’s how to greet your meets much more skillfully.


1. Account for the loudmouth problem

When placed into a group situation like a meeting, people rely on “messy proxies for expertise.” Rather than deferring to competency, people take confidence, loudness, or even race as signals that a person is to be listened to.

To defuse that distraction, don’t brainstorm, brainwrite.

Related: Three Simple Steps That Helped Me Finally Beat Meeting Overload

2. Sit in a circle

People who sat around circular tables were found to be more group-oriented than those arrayed around square tables.

3. Complete the work, not the schedule

Meetings don’t just last 15, 30, or 60 minutes. If the work is done in eight, bail: that’s what Sheryl Sandberg does.

4. Make sure the right people are in the room

At Square, having the decision maker in the room leads to quicker decisions–and more original products.


5. Turn your agenda into inquiries

Organizational psychologist and Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams author Roger Schwarz dropped some knowledge on Harvard Business Review that we’re still adjusting to. Instead of listing out the agenda with limp, open-ended declaratives, turn them into answerable questions. For example:

  • Don’t write: “Discuss video schedule”
  • Do write: “When will videos be completed?”

Suddenly, everybody knows what outcome is to be looked for–and you’ll all know when it’s been found.

6.Never order more than two pizzas

Some old school Jeff Bezos wisdom: If the folks in the meeting can’t be fed by two pizzas, then the meeting is too big.

Related: How These 12 Companies Make Meetings Memorable, Effective, And Short

7.Mind the transition

Before you change from one question on the agenda to the next, Schwarz says make sure everyone who wants to have a say on the topic can make their input. Why? Because otherwise they might be asking that question 15 minutes from now–which gives everybody in the room the heavy cognitive costs of task switching.

Readers: What do you do to make meetings less awful? Let us know in the comments.


Hat tip: HBR

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.