Six Tips to Shift Meetings from Drudgery to Productivity

Bad Meetings bored staff

Meetings. Dreaded, eye-roll-inducing meetings. We’ve all been there. Stuck in a room (in person or remote), watching the clock tick by as someone drones on about something seemingly pointless. 

But hold up! What if I told you meetings don’t have to be this way? What if I told you there’s a secret sauce to turn these wastes of time into powerhouses of productivity and creativity?

Let’s face it: we’ve all come to accept bad meetings as an unavoidable part of corporate life. The reality is, poor meetings are actually a symptom of deeper organizational health issues. Yup, bad meetings are like the canary in the coal mine, signalling trouble ahead.

But fear not; hope is on the horizon. It’s time to flip the script on meetings and transform them from soul-sucking black holes into vibrant hubs of collaboration and innovation. Believe it or not – the power to do that lies not in fancy agendas or minute-taking skills but in the hands of us, the leaders.

So, before we dive into the nitty-gritty of how to revolutionize your meetings, let’s get real about why they are awful in the first place. There are two main problems here.

First, Meetings Lack Drama

Unfortunately, most meetings are about as exciting as watching paint dry. A little drama isn’t always a bad thing. The key to making meetings more engaging — and less boring — lies in the power of conflict. 

Just ask Hollywood. They’ve mastered the art of keeping audiences hooked by injecting conflict into every scene. Directors and screenwriters learned long ago that movies need conflict to hold the interests of their audiences. Viewers must believe high stakes are on the line and feel the characters’ tension. Hollywood realized audiences would lose interest and disengage if they didn’t nurture that conflict — or drama — in the first 10 minutes of a movie.

And guess what? We can do the same. By putting those juicy, controversial topics on the table and encouraging everyone to lean into the discussion, we can create the kind of drama that keeps people on the edge of their seats.

Second, Meetings are Ineffective

Drama alone won’t cut it. We also need to tackle the second biggest issue with meetings, that all too often they are a giant waste of time! Let’s be real, most meetings leave us scratching our heads and wondering how we will make up that hour that we just lost. Too many meetings lack context and purpose. We’re thrown into a mishmash of admin tasks, strategy discussions, and everything in between, with no clear direction.

There is a simple solution – clarity. We need to differentiate between different types of meetings and set clear expectations for each. No more trying to cram every conversation into one endless staff meeting. It’s time to embrace the power of variety and have the right kind of meeting for the right kind of conversation.

A New Way to Look at Meetings

Instead of relying solely on an agenda to drive effective meetings, we need to identify the purpose of coming together. 

  • What stage of work are we in? 
  • What problems are we solving?
  • What types of conversations do we need to have?
  • What tangible outcomes do we want to leave with?

When we look at meetings through this lens, we can see different types of meetings emerge. Yes, we recommend MORE meetings but they will be more focused, productive, useful, efficient, enjoyable, AND shorter!

Are you intrigued yet?

Here is our recommended four-meeting model, as outlined by Patrick Lencioni in Death by Meeting:

  1.  ‘The Daily Check-in.’ It’s like a mini pow-wow, nothing more than five or 10 minutes. The purpose? Keep everyone on the same page and give a quick update on what’s happening today.
  2. ‘The Tactical Staff.’ Think of it as your classic staff meeting but with a twist – no set agenda. Yup, you heard that right. Instead, an opening lightning round has everyone state progress on their priorities & objectives using red/yellow/green. The agenda is built in real time based on the most important topics. I recommend you start with those identified as red and focus your discussion on the issues that will move the needle toward your most important goals.
  3. ‘The Adhoc Topical’ is where things get juicy. Where we address the strategic issues and problems that need focused time to work through. Rather than trying to cram these conversations in your “weekly staff meeting”, set aside the required time to address the concern properly. You will need time for brainstorming, for healthy debate, and to identify action plans and next steps.  
  4. ‘The Quarterly Off-Site Review.’ It’s like a mini getaway for the team. A chance to step back and take a good, hard look at everything bigger picture, from team dynamics to company strategy. Block off a day or two to step out of the day-to-day and ensure you are on the right track. 

The Meetings Commitment

One key to making this meeting structure work is to overcome corporate leaders’ most common objection: “How am I going to get my work done if I’m spending all of my time in meetings?”

There are two ways to answer this.

First, you’re looking at approximately 20% of a leader’s time when you add up the time these meetings require if run with purpose and discipline. Ironically, most leaders are currently spending way more time than that in ineffective meetings. Even more time is being wasted when you consider “sneaker time;” the hours spent sending emails, leaving voicemails, and roaming the halls to clarify issues that could have been addressed during a meeting.

Second, leaders need to ask themselves “What is more important than meetings?” If they feel the answer to this is sales, product design, or managing email, then they might want to truly reconsider what their role is as a leader. Look at it this way – a leader who hates meetings is much like a surgeon who hates being in the operating room, a conductor who hates concerts, or a sports coach who feels games are a waste of time. When run properly, meetings are a leader’s theatre – they are where the most important conversations should happen, and where the most important problems are solved.  

The solution to bad meetings is not removing them, but rather taking action and transforming them into the most meaningful, engaging, and relevant activities in a leader’s day.

How to Transform Your Meetings

So, now that we’ve laid the groundwork, how do we transform our meetings from drudgery to delight? Well, my friends, I’m glad you asked.

Sign where the rubber meets the road

Here are five tips to get you started when planning your next meeting:

  1. Identify your purpose. Are you trying to solve a tactical issue, hash out a long-term strategy, or something in between? Ensure everyone knows the why and what’s expected of them.
  2. Clarify the stakes. Why does this meeting matter? What’s at risk if we don’t get it right? Make sure everyone understands the consequences – bad meetings equal bad decisions. This isn’t just “another meeting”, it is an opportunity to move the needle on what’s most important.
  3. Hook them from the outset. Don’t waste time beating around the bush. Get straight to the point and make it clear why this meeting matters.
  4. Set aside the right amount of time. Based on your purpose, is this a 10-minute tactical stand-up meeting or a 2-hour strategic meeting? Be sure to allocate time appropriately and be disciplined to stick to it – don’t let daily check-ins go over time and don’t be tempted to end strategic meetings early, before achieving a resolution. The goal of every meeting is clarity and commitment.
  5. Provoke conflict. Are your team members uncomfortable challenging each other during meetings? Conflict shouldn’t be personal, but it should be ideologically emotional. Don’t shy away from disagreements. Embrace them. It’s through healthy debate that we find the best solutions.


Transforming meetings from mundane obligations to powerful engines of productivity and innovation requires a fundamental shift in perspective and approach. The first step toward meaningful change is recognizing that bad meetings are symptomatic of deeper organizational issues. By embracing conflict and injecting purpose and clarity into our meetings, we can harness their potential to drive progress and achieve meaningful outcomes.

Implementing a four-pronged meeting structure comprising daily check-ins, tactical staff meetings, ad hoc topical discussions, and quarterly off-site reviews provides a framework for focused and effective collaboration. Overcoming objections to increased meeting time requires recognizing meetings’ essential role in leadership and organizational success.

Leaders must adopt a proactive approach to meeting management to enact lasting change. They must focus on purpose, stakes, engagement, time allocation, and conflict. By following these tips, organizations can elevate meetings and unlock their potential as catalysts for innovation and growth.

Many interesting articles have been written on bad meetings, making the most of your meetings, or changing them to be more effective.  Here are a couple from Forbes and Patrick Lencioni.

Please contact us if you’d like to chat about how we can help your leadership team achieve your most important strategic goals in 2024.

 As Trusted Advisors in Leadership Development, NexLevel helps leaders cultivate high-performance teams that consistently achieve outstanding results. 

 We work with leaders who are:

  • Looking for impact over training
  • Striving to be proactive over reactive
  • Committed to a healthy culture over distraction, avoidance, and confusion’s 

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