I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen different variations of the meme floating around the internet saying, “Another meeting that could have been an e-mail.” They’re usually followed by a hashtag acronym that stands for choice words of frustration.

My recent partnership with Lori Greiner has made me more aware of the need for brief, straight-to-the-point, well-prepared meetings. To maximize our time together and respect her and her team’s busy schedules, I am diligent about my meeting preparation, ensuring that I have everything in order and ready to go before each Zoom call. But was I committed to that same level of preparedness when it came to meetings with my teams? Not quite. And it got me thinking.

As a general rule, employees hate meetings because a meeting where everything is relevant to everyone, and all parties are energized and engaged, is almost non-existent. So, what could I do, and how can we as leaders make it better? Here are some ideas.

I believe the first and best way to make meetings work is to have fewer of them—way fewer. If it can be a phone call or an e-mail, let it be just that. But when a meeting must be held, here are some guidelines to avoid an unproductive snooze-fest:

  • Have a plan. Prepare an agenda and share it with the group well beforehand so they can be as prepared as possible regarding their responsibilities. Include a timeframe with a hard stop to show you understand that your employees are busy and that you respect their time and schedules. This seems like a no-brainer, but how many meetings have you been a part of that had no set plan and seemed to drone on forever?
  • Don’t waste time. Don’t allow a single issue (or person) to dominate the conversation. When something comes up that clearly won’t be solved in the meeting’s time frame, shut it down and schedule a time to meet again with only the people involved. Tactfully temper anyone who might like to hear themselves talk a little too much as well. You’ll be a hero to the rest of the team.
  • Read the room. A good leader will sense such things as tension, boredom and frustration. Has someone been silent the whole time? Draw them out with a question, and you may find that something is bothering them. It’s always easier in the moment to avoid these things, but don’t. Dig deeper into whatever is bubbling under the surface and allow your employees to speak freely but respectfully. Put out the small fires or face the raging inferno and eventual resignations later. Those really are your only two choices, so choose wisely.
  • Zoom with a view. Virtual meetings have become a norm, with more and more people continuing to work from home post-pandemic. And it’s become popular for participants to join with “audio-only.” No need for people to change out of their pajamas, fix their hair or makeup, etc. But discourage this. It’s no secret that the temptation to check out and multi-task during an audio-only virtual meeting is high. Set the expectation that you want your team to be as together and focused as possible, which means you expect to see their faces. Let them know that, in return, they can expect that this meeting will not be a waste of their time. Both are fair and reasonable.
  • Have fun. There are lots of ways to do this. Maybe start by having your team share the craziest customer service call or social comment you got that week. Or include food. Food is always a good idea. The bottom line is to create a relaxed environment for a more open and enjoyable experience. Some meetings require a more formal tone, but most don’t, so loosen up!

And if you genuinely want to have fewer meetings, there is a way. This isn’t a popular solution among busy leaders with schedules, nerves and patience stretched thin, but it’s a wise long-term idea that will lead to much greater organizational health. Instead, spend more one-on-one time with your key people. This includes in-person and via phone calls or e-mails.

Model good communication from the top down. Genuinely listen, care, cast vision, empower, and watch your core team come alive and spread that passion and positivity as they communicate to their teams and others around them. Invest in and value your people. If you do this, everyone—including you—will be much happier, more productive, and far less likely to suffer from meetingitis.

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