We’ve all been there: you’re sitting in a grey meeting room just before lunch. The presenter is fiddling with the projector, trying to get their laptop to connect. It’s 20 minutes past the start time of the meeting and with no agenda set, you might be in here for ten more minutes or for three more hours. In general, meetings suck. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that many teams become accustomed to the idea that meetings suck and don’t strive to improve the system, because this is just how it's done.

What’s worse, is that unwieldy meetings consume a company’s scarcest resource: time. A one hour meeting of ten people eats up ten hours of productivity and costs ten times the average hourly rate in the room. Kept unchecked, this quickly starts costing thousands of dollars per hour wasted.  

So how do we eliminate, or at least improve, this pervasive problem? Get feedback. How often? After every meeting. Why? As no two teams are alike, great meetings has a different definition for everyone. When? In the last 5 minutes of every meeting.

A study conducted by Allen et al. for the Management Research Review demonstrated that meeting attendees tend to enjoy meetings with a strong agenda in place well before the start of a given meeting more than those without. Naturally, this finding is coupled with the fact that meeting attendees dislike meetings that waste time, infringe on time that employees could have spent productively, and lack sensible structure. As a result, Allen et al. suggest that managers and individuals leading meetings should ask overtly about what attendees think about their meetings in order to identify areas for improvement.

But how do we achieve this goal? First, how do we get the honest feedback that is necessary to improve, and second, how do we act on this feedback in a way that will truly change the meeting environment for the better?

Obtaining Feedback

While the value of feedback cannot be understated, it is important to collect this feedback in a way that is itself productive. Launching into 30 minute discussions about potential changes at the end of a meeting, or sending out longwinded surveys to employees in the middle of the day, are methods that will only cause more distraction and result in more time wasted.  

When obtaining feedback, make sure to include, as well as block off time for, this section of the meeting in the agenda sent out to all attendees. Crafting a strong agenda is a topic best left to its own article, but every attendee should be aware of this extra segment of the meeting beforehand. Furthermore, explicitly mention that you will be collecting feedback at the end of the meaning before you get started on the other agenda items.  

Once it is time to collect feedback, either distribute a slip of paper and a pen to each of the meeting attendees, or provide a link to an online survey (bonus points if you send this link in the agenda ahead of time for easy access). In an effort to reduce the work you will need to complete in order to analyze this information, make it a priority to ensure that everyone is using the same medium to submit feedback. Not only will a specific and well-thought-out process save you time, it will save time during the meeting itself (remember, the goal is to spend no more than 5 minutes on this).  

In this article we will discuss an incredibly simple, but effective, feedback survey type: the Return on Time Invested (ROTI) survey.

This feedback methodology has been around for a while and it consists of 3 questions.

Question 1:  

On a scale of 0-4, rate how much return on time invested did you (the meeting participant) receive from this meeting? Each value from the scale means the following.  

0 - There was no benefit gained from this meeting. It was a waste of time.  

1 - Too much time was spend on this meeting, but there was some benefit to attending it.  

2 - The meeting was alright, it was useful but it wasn’t anything special.  

3 - This was a valuable meeting. It was worth attended.  

4 - This meeting was excellent! It was incredibly productive and was a great return on time invested.  

Question 2:  

What would it take to improve your answer above by one point?

Question 3:

What is one thing that you liked about the current meeting that you wish to see again next time?

The first question is a simple number response and the next two are to be answered with a single sentence. All-in-all, this process should take no longer than 5 minutes.  

Now, armed with this knowledge, work to make one small change every meeting based on the feedback provided, and track how the feedback changes over time. Is the average rating going up? Are certain concerns going away and others being uncovered? Every team is different and it is up to you to manipulate the meeting process as needed to work towards optimally productive and effective meetings. Aim to make one change every meeting instead of making all of the changes at once because you don’t want to overload your participants and create a significantly novel meeting environment. Building gradually over time will lead to stronger results.  

This straightforward method is meant not only to make your meeting attendees happier with their meetings, but also to save time (and money!) overall, and stay on track with productive meetings.  

Thank you for stopping by, and best of luck making your meetings awesome!