Meeting Productivity Killers—And How to Stop Them

Meetings are a vital part of today’s business landscape, yet they have a bad reputation. Plenty of people have experienced meetings that did little more than waste time – meetings that fell victim to productivity killers. If a meeting is to succeed, such threats to efficiency must be identified and eliminated. Here are five of the top productivity killers, and how to avoid them.

Lack of Vision/Agenda

One of the most surefire ways to kill a meeting’s productivity is to initiate a meeting without a vision. Any time you plan a meeting, ask yourself what your goal should be. What are you hoping to achieve? A meeting without direction will simply waste precious time, rather than accomplish objectives. There should be a specific goal, something the meeting is aiming to accomplish. Furthermore, you should come into the meeting with strategies for accomplishing that goal. What needs to be discussed to make the meeting a success? How will that success be defined or measured?

Pre-Agenda Check-in with Meeting Attendees

Meetings in which organization change may be required can be difficult. Participants may feel threatened, that actions have been tried in the past but failed, or that management doesn’t understand the complexity or challenges encountered. Providing participants with a voice before a meeting can not only help their voices be heard and concerns addressed, but can minimize debates as well.

Rabbit Trails

Establishing a clear vision for your meeting should allow you to create applicable talking points. These points help ensure you achieve the goal of your meeting. Deviating from this agenda, however, risks producing meandering conversation that achieves nothing. It can be easy to follow every rabbit trail you come across, but this only hinders productivity. A well-crafted agenda should help guard against conversations that distract from the main goal of your meeting. At the same time, some rabbit trails can be helpful and should be directed into future meetings with their own agendas. The key is to know which deviations from your agenda will benefit your time, and which deviations will merely distract. If you fear a rabbit trail will derail conversation, you can set aside time later to interact with ideas not scheduled for discussion in your meeting.

Unchecked Debates

If you call a meeting to discuss decisions that must be made, you will inevitably have to deal with conflict. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—conflict helps separate good ideas from the bad ones. Disagreements, and dialogue about them, help ensure that the best decision is made. However, not all such dialogue proves helpful. Sometimes meetings can devolve into heated, seemingly endless debating. Unchecked debates aren’t just unproductive—they’re counterproductive. When people spend a lot of time arguing, without ever moving forward, it will only create lasting tension and hard feelings. Debating the merits of a given argument is helpful, even necessary, but there must be guidelines. Debates can throw off your agenda like little else. Setting clear boundaries for the amount of time allotted to debate, and which subjects of debate are permissible, is a vital step.

Unnecessary Information

A meeting won’t be productive if everyone attending stops paying attention.  Going into an unhelpful amount of unnecessary detail will only cause people to zone out with information overload. All information provided in a meeting should be pertinent to everyone attending.

Lack of Next Steps

Every meeting should provide attendees with a clear vision of what to do next, or the action steps necessary. It isn’t enough to discuss ideas, after all. People discuss ideas in order to make a plan of action, and that plan must be executed. Decisions made in a meeting should lead to action—but the steps that must be taken should be communicated clearly. Everyone attending a meeting should leave knowing precisely what they need to do next.

Commitment and Follow-Through

While meetings with a clear agenda and action plan can be extremely productive, lack of ownership in how those action items are to be implemented can be a problem.  If no one is willing to be committed to the tasks needed to reach the bigger objectives then the meeting has had little impact.  Instead, get participants to own tasks or actions needed to be completed, and follow up on them with another meeting to ensure that things are progressing correctly or what issues may arise.

Qualify and Quantify Success

Meetings, no matter the type, should always include quantifications of the effectiveness of the meeting.  Survey participants on a 1-5 scale about the basics – was the meeting helpful?  Did you feel that the goals were adequately defined?  Did the meeting stay on task? Were projects clearly articulated? Were tasks or action items assigned to specific teams or participants?  What could you do differently to make the meeting more productive?


Meetings are a great opportunity to get a lot accomplished, but they need to be properly executed. If you want a successful meeting, get rid of productivity killers. Eliminating these threats to your efficiency will keep your meeting from wasting everyone’s time, and you’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll accomplish.

To learn more about how meeting planning can be helpful to you organization contact Gavel International.

Jeff Richards