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7 causes of ineffective meetings: Tips for leaders and people managers
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7 causes of ineffective meetings: Tips for leaders and people managers

Discover why meetings become ineffective and how to stop ineffective meetings by spotting these common signs.

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Waiting online for tickets to eventually discover they’re sold out, sitting on hold to just be disconnected, getting to the airport early to learn your flight has been canceled. Wasting time is sometimes unavoidable, but it should never be part of your workday. 

Ever reach the end of the meeting just to realize you and your team are exactly where you were when you started? While productive meetings move work forward in a meaningful way, not all meetings are created equal—and many are ineffective and result in lost time for companies, managers, and employees. 

With ineffective meetings being the number one obstacle to workplace productivity, you need to understand what makes a good or bad meeting, including the reasons they become ineffective.* This way, you can make the meetings you do have more productive—and cancel the rest. 

In this article, we look right at seven signs you’re holding ineffective meetings and give you suggestions for ways to ensure all your meetings actually move work forward. 

Hold fewer meetings, and make the ones you do have count. 
Switchboard gives yo a platform to make the most of the meetings that do need to happen.
Learn more

7 signs you're holding inefficient meetings

We’re not going to waste any of your time—let’s get right into the signs you’re holding inefficient meetings (and what you can do to prevent this). 

1. Too many meetings

Ineffective meetings come in lots of different flavors: For example, one that doesn’t move work forward, one that could’ve been an email or Slack message, or one where most people don’t actively contribute. Ask yourself, does my calendar look like a losing game of Tetris? High meeting volume could be the first sign that some of them are inefficient. 

While many managers automatically default to meeting synchronously, this isn't necessarily the best way to move a project forward. That’s why the first step to running effective meetings is learning how to distinguish between the meetings you should keep and the ones you can cancel.

Do an audit of all your existing meetings. When deciding which meetings to prioritize and which unproductive ones to cancel, think about the meeting’s purpose—if most people won’t be actively involved in the call, it could probably be canceled and done asynchronously. 

However, don’t immediately wipe your calendar clean—take a page out of Asana’s book. In their “Meeting Doomsday” experiment, the company went about canceling some of their meetings and shrinking others, reducing some hour-long meetings to 45 minutes and cutting 30-minute calls in half. This gave employees 11 hours back per month without having to eliminate meetings altogether. 

2. Unnecessary attendees 

Sometimes a meeting does need to happen, but it’s not relevant for everyone invited. Having too many people in a meeting can waste people’s time and even cause the conversation to go off-topic. 

“A good sign of an unproductive meeting is a lack of engagement from the participants,” says Tim Green, COO of TeamUp. “If I notice that some team members are silent or seem distracted, it’s usually a sign that the meeting isn’t providing value to them.”

If you notice most people aren’t participating in your meeting or it’s hard to stay on track because there are too many people, reevaluate the list of attendees and only invite people whose presence is crucial to the meeting’s objectives. This reduces the risk of unproductive discussions and unengaged participants, and creates more time to focus work. 

Consider sharing takeaways in written notes or a recording with people who didn’t need to be on the call but could still get something out of what was discussed.

Pro tip: When you hold your meetings in Switchboard, not only can you record calls, but you can also take notes right within the meeting room so anyone can jump in and get up to speed. What’s more, the platform’s AI feature summarizes room activity, giving team members an instant overview of what was discussed. 
Switchboard sales call room
Not everyone needs to be part of a conversation about your sales pipeline, but with Switchboard, any interested parties can go in and look at key findings on their own time. Source: Switchboard

3. No clear objectives or meeting agenda 

“One clear indicator of an unproductive meeting is when the conversation veers off-topic frequently,” says Green. “It’s natural for discussions to evolve, but when we’re spending more time on tangential issues than on the meeting’s objectives, it’s a red flag.”

A common cause of this is not having a clear meeting agenda. Without agenda items to stick to, it’s easy to go off on tangents and realize at the end of the time together that you haven’t accomplished anything. However, having an agenda helps you keep everyone focused. 

Green says when his meetings become unfocused, “I gently steer the conversation back on track, reminding everyone of the agenda and the goals we’re there to achieve.”

Be sure to define the clear goals of each meeting you organize and create a detailed agenda beforehand. This will guide the meeting’s focus and ensure everyone comes prepared to contribute. As an additional bonus, you may realize when creating the agenda that you can shorten the meeting. Alternatively, you can cancel it and turn it into an email or asynchronous communication

4. Unprepared participants 

If they don’t have the right materials ahead of time, attendees may be unable to properly prepare for the meeting. As a result, they might be less inclined to engage and participate, and your meetings may not be as productive as they could be. 

To avoid this, be sure to share your agenda and any relevant materials before the meeting starts and set expectations for active engagement. You can do this easily when you run your meetings in Switchboard. 

The async-first collaboration platform lets you create shared, persistent meeting rooms where participants can jump in on their own time to check the agenda and review materials. The rooms save all your notes and documents from previous calls, and anyone involved in the meeting can enter the room between calls to get up to speed or add agenda items. 

Finally, if certain people continually come to your meeting unprepared, then maybe they don’t find the meeting helpful. In this case, you should poll your group anonymously to find out who is and isn’t getting value out of your meetings—you can do so with Switchboard’s anonymous polling app.

Switchboard weekly meeting room with voting app
With Switchboard, you can anonymously poll meeting participants to figure out who actually needs to be on the call. Source: Switchboard

5. Context switching and distractions

Just because all your meeting attendees are present doesn’t mean they’re really there. Almost three quarters of employees admit to doing other work in meetings, so you need to make sure you minimize context-switching and distractions and keep everyone on task. 

“One practice I’ve found effective is to have a ‘no-devices’ rule during our meetings,” says Green. “This means that everyone is fully present and engaged in the discussion, without the distractions of emails, messages, or notifications. It’s a simple practice, but it has made a significant difference in our meeting productivity and the quality of our discussions.”

For online meetings, encourage participants to close out of their email and messaging tools like Slack or Teams and put their phones on silent mode as soon as you start the call. 

Beyond that, you need to make sure people actually have time in their day for focus work. Almost half of employees complain that meetings are the primary waste of time at work, taking them away from the tasks required to bring in revenue and fulfill their responsibilities

Additionally, you can help reduce distractions by using a multiplayer platform like Switchboard that keeps everyone engaged in the conversation. Rather than passively watching someone share their screen while they switch between email and Slack tabs, employees can actively participate in the meeting by interacting with apps, files, and documents right within the room—helping them stay focused on the task at hand. 

6. Your tools can't keep up 

Even if you cut down on how many meetings you hold and ensure only relevant participants are invited, you may still not get the most out of your meetings if you’re not using the right tools. For example, using a traditional video conferencing tool may mean one facilitator is running the meeting while the rest of the attendees are passive listening (and probably daydreaming). 

By using such a limited tool for meeting and collaborating, you’re not helping your people be as productive as possible. This applies to both when they’re working together on a call and when they’re getting things done on their own time. 

That’s why you need a visual collaboration tool that helps you move work forward both in and between meetings. Switchboard, for example, is an async-first collaboration platform that helps you get things done faster with fewer meetings. It organizes all your apps and tools in persistent meeting and project rooms. 

For example, your design team can create a designated room for their weekly design review. They can leave all their briefs, mock-ups, and prototypes open in the room so they have all the tools and apps they need whenever they hop in for a call or spontaneous brainstorming session.

Switchboard website design project room
Switchboard helps keep meetings engaging with interactive, persistent rooms that save your work—so you can do more in and between meetings. Source: Switchboard

7. Lack of documentation and follow up 

It’s not just about how productive the actual meeting is, but what happens after everyone hops off the call that matters. If you don’t properly document your meetings and ensure that the right people follow up on action items, all that time you spent on the call goes to waste. 

That’s why you need to create a system for documenting meeting outcomes, action items, and follow-up tasks, ensuring accountability and forward progress after the meeting is over. The easiest way to do this is by holding your meetings on a platform with built-in tools. 

With Switchboard, you can leave a list of action items in the meeting room where everyone can easily see and reference them as necessary. Then you can ask Switchboard AI to summarize meeting notes so participants know what exactly they’re responsible for. 

Additionally, consider taking a little time at the beginning of each meeting to make sure everyone was able to accomplish what they were supposed to after the previous call. “I make a point to review previous meeting minutes to ensure that all action items have been addressed,” says Green. “This not only keeps everyone accountable but also provides a sense of continuity and progress.”

Prevent ineffective meetings and cut down on lost time 

Imagine the feeling of driving all the way to the post office to realize you left the package you wanted to send at home. All that time you spent in the car is time you could have spent doing something more productive—just like all the time employees spend in meetings that aren’t relevant to them or don’t actively move work forward. 

In order to reduce unnecessary meetings and make sure all your calls are productive, the first step is to wrap your head around what makes a meeting ineffective in the first place. This allows you to single out unproductive meetings and prioritize the ones you still want to hold. 

When people have fewer meetings on their calendars, they’ll likely be more engaged and invested in the meetings they do attend. However, to ensure your meetings are as productive as possible, you need to make sure you’re holding them on the right platform. 

That’s where Switchboard comes in. The platform lets you work side-by-side allowing your team to scroll, type, and browse the same document at the same time. This makes sure all your meeting attendees are actively engaged and participating. Plus, Switchboard helps you collaborate on your own time by housing all the documents and tools you need in one place—so you can move tasks forward between meetings.

Hold fewer meetings, and make the ones you do have count. 
Switchboard gives your team a platform to make the most of the meetings that do need to happen. 
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about ineffective meetings

What can make a meeting successful or unsuccessful? 

A few factors that can determine whether a meeting is successful or unsuccessful include: 

  • Whether you have a clear, actionable agenda
  • Whether you invite the right people to the meeting
  • Whether meeting participants come prepared
  • Whether you use the right meeting tool 

What is the cost of ineffective meetings? 

Ineffective meetings don’t only cost you time, but also money: A 2022 study found that unnecessary meetings can cost large companies up to $100 million per year. In addition, holding ineffective meetings harm employee productivity and even have a negative impact on employee morale. 

What is an ineffective meeting example? 

An example of an ineffective meeting is one that doesn’t have a clear agenda, leading to participants getting off-topic and not making meaningful contributions to the conversation. This could cause the call to extend beyond the scheduled time, causing employees to be frustrated and disengaged.

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Hold fewer meetings, and make the ones you do have count.

Switchboard helps your people get more done async and gives them a platform to make the most of the meetings that do need to happen.