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How to make your meeting culture better (even if you don't think it's broken)

Illustration of three people on a video call

Meeting culture is the sum of a company's meeting practices, both good and bad. For example, Patagonia enforces a "no meetings at lunchtime" policy, so employees can relax or have fun, whether surfing, running, or doing yoga.

IKEA, in turn, emphasizes spontaneity in its meeting culture. Whether it's grabbing a quick coffee or having a chat on their large central staircase, employees embrace informal meetings to move work forward and resolve issues.

These are but a couple of ideas of practices that shape a healthy meeting culture. Practices can be anything from how meetings are run and how often you have them, to policies around inclusivity and meeting notes.

But how do you know your meeting culture needs work? What can you do to improve it? Read on to learn more.

Why is meeting culture important?

Meeting culture's influence extends beyond meetings to productivity, a company's bottom line, and the company culture. According to a survey of 182 senior managers by Harvard Business Review:

  • 65% believed meetings prevent them from finishing their work,

  • 71% said they're unproductive, and 

  • 64% said they're to the detriment of deep thinking.

A 2019 study from Doodle that involved interviewing more than 6,500 professionals (and examining 19 million meetings) corroborated the above findings: 43% of respondents felt that poorly organized meetings created workplace confusion, and 44% felt it impacted their ability to get work done.

The point: your meeting culture can either work for or against you. If you have a healthy meeting culture, employees probably feel like meetings enhance their work instead of hinder it. If you don't, the resentment around meetings is sure to compound over time.

Signs your meeting culture needs improvement

Here are six signs that it's time to re-examine your meeting culture.

Too many meetings 😖

Too many meetings is the complaint you hear most often when it comes to meeting culture because it removes people from doing their work, possibly pushing them to work overtime to catch up.

It could be a sign that there's not enough process in place (e.g. no agendas), which leads to more scheduled meetings to address aspects not covered in the original meeting.

It could also signal a lack of trust in employees to get their work done, or a lack of critical thinking as to whether a meeting should be scheduled in the first place ("this could've been an email").

Meetings never start or end on time 🕓

Meetings that run over can eat into the time employees have for their own work and may mean they're late for other meetings. If they choose to step out of a meeting to join another one, they inevitably miss essential details. Without time between meetings, they’ll feel rushed (and also possibly hungry and stiff from sitting), which can deplete energy and creativity.

Meeting agendas are never set 🗓️

Clarity is essential to productivity. If a meeting owner doesn't share an agenda, it often means two things: 1) they haven't thought through the purpose of the meeting and 2) attendees won't know what to expect. The meeting will inevitably waste time getting everyone up to speed, or get off track and run longer than usual.

Meetings don’t feel inclusive 🚫

If your meeting environment doesn't encourage everyone to have a voice, and instead, you have a few boisterous individuals who dominate conversations, you have a problem. Others may feel undervalued because they don't have a voice, which can harm team morale and company success.

There are no defined next steps 🤷

Have you ever left a meeting feeling energized, only to wonder what the next steps are?Without documented action items, employees likely won't remember what to do. They'll only have more questions for their manager, and follow-up meetings might need to be scheduled.

The invite list is flawed 🙄

Not inviting the right people to a meeting wastes everyone's time and removes them from other work. If people are there that don't need to be, you'll get low engagement or non-relevant input. And if decision-makers aren’t present, you'll need to re-schedule to get stuff done. 

9 rules for building a stronger meeting culture

Given the possible symptoms of bad meeting culture, here are nine rules for improving it.

1. Audit your meetings 📋

Businesses regularly measure and evaluate their business processes to see where they can improve. Why should meetings be any different?

If you're a CEO, manager, or team lead, review meetings from the past month to see what worked and what didn't. Maybe you'll notice a pattern of certain meetings being more productive than others—or that employees always comment about how they love one specific meeting. 

Dig deeper to understand what made those meetings successful. Speak to employees one-on-one to see what you can improve, and send out an anonymous survey to get a sense of your current meeting culture. Ask about the frequency of meetings, length of meetings, and productivity of meetings to get a gauge of where you're at.

Finally, ask yourself: Are there any meetings we can cancel entirely? If certain meetings once had good intentions but no longer have a clear purpose, either clarify the purpose, cancel them, or make them less frequent (e.g., bi-weekly vs. weekly).

2. Set clear agendas — and stick to them ✅

As mentioned, meeting agendas keep your meetings on track and ensure everyone knows what to expect. Your agenda includes:

  • The purpose of the meeting and outcomes you hope to achieve

  • The topics to be discussed

  • Timing for each discussion point 

  • Time to review action items and next steps

The meeting organizer needs to take ownership of the agenda and send it to attendees as part of the meeting invite. Any supporting documentation or pre-reads should also be provided to attendees to prepare.

In Vowel, you can quickly create agendas from your Upcoming tab and share them with attendees. These agendas come into the meeting with you on a shared notepad that everyone can see.

Vowel meeting agenda

💡 Idea: The SaaS company Brivo implemented a "No Rehash" rule after the CEO noticed they kept making the same decisions, according to Fast Company. Employees in any meeting let others know the topic had already been discussed by lifting a ping-pong paddle.

3. Make meetings shorter ⏫

One way to immediately reduce meeting time is to not use default calendar time slots like 30- or 60-minute intervals. Why? People tend to fill the time slot even if the meeting is shorter. So don't be afraid to choose a more specific time like 20 minutes.

Another option is to specify a maximum time for most meetings, e.g., “We don’t have meetings longer than 45 minutes — if we need more time, we set a break in between.”

In Vowel, you can use agenda timers to prevent meetings from going over time — type /agenda in your meeting notes, set a time, and go!

Agenda timers in Vowel

💡 Idea: Hotjar's CEO Mohannad Ali recently published a LinkedIn post about the company's meeting rules, which include no status updates or “check-in” meetings, defaulting to 30-minute meetings, and concluding a meeting as soon as the objective is reached (even if that's earlier than expected). 

4. Be intentional about who you invite ✉️

Meetings should include those who will provide valuable input and drive the meeting forward. An example of a company that believes in this intentionality is Google — according to Business Insider, Google's meeting culture involves keeping meetings to less than 8 people.

If you're worried about excluding people, keep in mind that if you record your meetings, you can send recordings and notes to people later, so they have context without having to actually attend the meeting.

💡 Idea: LinkedIn applies the RAPID framework to ensure the right people are invited to a meeting. According to VP Brian Rumao: At a minimum, you should invite the "R" (Recommender) and the "D" (Decision-maker). In most cases, it makes sense to invite the "A" (Agrees with recommendation) and the "P" (Performer who executes the decision) as well, while the "I" (offers Input) is generally optional." 

5. Be more inclusive 💬

Inclusivity is about creating a meeting environment that encourages everyone to participate and share their thoughts and ideas. Here are a few ways to make meetings more inclusive:

  • Let employees submit any questions in response to the agenda ahead of time. Employees who may otherwise not speak during a meeting are now encouraged to do so.

  • For virtual meetings, use a tool like Vowel to display these questions in the shared notes for everyone to see. You can also track talk-time percentages (they update live!) to ensure everyone gets a chance to contribute.

Meeting talk-time tracking in Vowel

💡 Idea: Introduce round-robins during meetings where everyone is given an opportunity to speak. These go-arounds are a technique LinkedIn executives use to run meetings. The meeting organizer asks a simple question and then polls the room for answers.

6. Implement a process for taking notes collaboratively 🗒️

Shared note-taking improves transparency, collaboration, idea generation, and overall productivity. For instance, someone may make a note that triggers an idea or thought from someone else, who then makes a note. 

Taking notes together online typically means using a shared notepad where everyone can see the agenda and take notes on the same notepad as the meeting progresses. You can do this in Vowel, or use a collaborative doc on a tool like Google or Notion.

All this information is then readily available in one shared space that everyone can access later. This makes it easy to carry action items over to new meetings, track performance, and create your next meeting agenda. 

7. End every meeting with action items 🎬

Action items help avoid post-meeting confusion where people wonder what the next steps are. The action items should include the next steps to move the thing/project forward, who's responsible for what, and timelines for the deliverables.

Another practice that contributes to a better meeting culture is sending a post-meeting recap that attendees can easily access in one place for future reference. This ensures meetings don't get lost and people forget what was said. Vowel makes this possible through instant meeting recaps that anyone can share!

Post-meeting recap screen in Vowel

8. Implement a "no meeting" day 😀

According to a survey of 76 companies by MIT Sloan Management Review, introducing one no-meeting day led to greater autonomy, communication, engagement, and satisfaction—and reduced micromanagement and stress. These “no-meeting” days also pressure people to keep other meetings as focused as possible.

Consider experimenting to find which day (or days!) work for your company. Mondays may be a good option, so employees feel like they're starting the week off strong by being able to focus without distractions. If Mondays don't work, why not try a Wednesday?

9. Record all your team meetings ⏺️

In a remote-first world — and one where employees often work in different time zones — recording all your team meetings is an excellent way to keep a record of everything that's been decided and discussed.

Recording meetings and storing them somewhere accessible means that:

  • Employees who miss meetings can easily catch up

  • New employees can look back at certain discussions that will give them context into their work (e.g. a training session on a new CMS or a kickoff meeting about a certain project)

  • It's easy to search for something that was said during a meeting — in Vowel, this is easy, because all recorded meetings are fully searchable!

Keyword search across recorded meetings in Vowel

Start building a better meeting culture today

While meetings may not always have the best reputation, they can bring people together, move projects forward, and help you get things done—provided they're underpinned by a healthy meeting culture that promotes: 

  • setting clear agendas 

  • championing inclusivity 

  • keeping meetings short, focused, and running on time

  • ending meetings with action items 

  • conducting regular meeting audits 

To improve your current meeting culture, audit it and consider writing a set of short “rules” around how meetings are run, keeping in mind that there may be exceptions.

And if you want help making your meeting culture, try out Vowel for free! We have a ton of built-in features to make your meetings 10x more valuable by turning them into searchable, shareable knowledge.