Manager Mysteries & Mishaps Podcast

You can get more out of your team meetings.

This episode explores the mystery of how to view meetings, the mystery of how to get the most out of your team meetings, and the mishap of miscommunication during meetings.


So this episode is a direct continuation of the previous episode. Last time I talked about miscommunication, both in general and as it relates to one-on-one meetings between you and your team members. This time, I’ll continue talking about miscommunication a little bit, but I’m shifting the lens to cover discussions within groups. Or in this case, meetings.

As a quick recap of the last episode, I defined miscommunication as the failure to adequately communicate, to adequately transfer information. Likewise, in our research we found that during one-on-one performance conversations, the top three sources of miscommunication were (1) not feeling that what employees had to say would be heard or listened to by their manager, (2) clear developmental goals not being set, and (3) employees and their managers having different priorities.

So that’s a high-level summary to get us going on the current topic: meetings. Meetings are a necessary evil. They’re necessary because they allow for in-the-moment communication, updates, tracking, course correction, and all the other factors that keep businesses going. They’re evil, or at least not the best, because they’re generally a huge waste of time. Some analyses have estimated that individual contributors, or non-managers, attend an average of 8 meetings per week, and managers attend 12 a week. With most of those meetings being an hour long, that’s roughly 32 hours on average for individual contributors and 48 hours for managers spent in meetings every month. If you’re a manager, then on average you’re spending more than a standard work week every month just in meetings.

And the fun doesn’t stop there. Other studies have suggested that about 30 hours are wasted in meetings per employee every month, averaged across individual contributors, managers, executives, etc. All of those hours are essentially unproductive. Let’s say you have 7 team members in an hour-long meeting. That’s not a one-hour investment – that’s an 8-hour investment when you factor in you and your team. Now multiply that by millions across the United States. Estimates suggest that this high amount of useless meetings costs the United States a total of 30-40 billion dollars a year in lost productivity. That is a lot of money wasted on something that plays such a large role in most organizations.

Now I’m not suggesting that all meetings have to be 100% productive. Sometimes it’s nice to just slow down, socialize, zone out, or just get a break from your day-to-day responsibilities. So there is value in meetings beyond the standard communication, updates, and all that. But we can do better. For example, does every meeting you’re in have to be in 30-minute blocks, generally for an hour? No – we’re just programmed that way because our technology of email and calendars have defaulted to 30-minute increments, so the technology shapes our behavior. And it’s easier to remember start times at the top or middle of the hour rather than something like 10:10, 10:15, and so on.

In this episode I wanted to offer ways to enhance meetings, not only from a communication perspective but also for efficiency. The first topic I’ll cover is about the mystery of how to view meetings. The second topic involves discussing the mystery of how to get the most out of your team meetings. And finally, the third topic is based on our research, and I’ll be covering the mishap of miscommunication during meetings.

How to View Meetings

This section is more about how to mentally approach meetings. With that in mind...

  1. My golden rule for meetings is simple: don’t have a meeting if you don’t have anything to talk about. Don’t have a meeting just to have a meeting. Sure you could say “But Dan, I’ve had some great ideas come out of meetings that started off without anything to talk about.” And that’s fine, great things can come out of down time during meetings. But you’re probably overlooking the dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of empty meeting hours that don’t lead to anything except boredom, anxiety, or resentment.

  2. Don’t have a meeting if what you want to discuss can be just as easily done over email or through messaging. If the topic is sensitive, requires a decision to be made or problems to be solved, or your team doesn’t have easy access to emails and the like, then yeah, have a meeting. But if it’s a quick update that doesn’t need any further discussion, then don’t waste everyone’s time. And if you absolutely need that kind of update meeting, a 15-minute stand-up meeting can often suffice, instead of a 30- or 60-minute sit-down meeting. 

  3. Invite only those people who are relevant for the intended discussion. I’ve been in meetings before where absolutely nothing was relevant for me and my opinion wasn’t needed either, and I’m 100% sure this has happened to you as well. Not everyone in your team has to be in every meeting. And if you invite someone more for the sake of knowledge or being informed, just have someone take detailed meeting notes and send those out to the team and other interested parties.

  4. You don’t have to use the whole allotted time for a meeting. If you scheduled a meeting to be an hour but you run out of meaningful things to talk about 40 minutes in, then call the meeting there. It’s done – don’t stretch it out another 20 minutes just because that’s what you scheduled it for. We seem to think that those extra 20 or whatever minutes should be used because we have everyone in the same room at the same time, whether in person or virtually. Meetings are not sacred. If something comes up, bring it up in an email. If you have a thought or two, jot them down and bring them up during the next meeting.

  5. Play around with meeting times. If you have an hour-long team meeting every week, see what happens if you open it by telling everyone that you need to end it in 45 minutes. If you do that a few times and notice people are rushing over important details to hit the time, or not everything is covered that should be, then that indicates an hour-long meeting is needed. But now you have proof that an hour is appropriate. On the other hand, if you notice everything’s getting wrapped up nicely at the 45-minute mark, then make the meeting 45 minutes from there on out. Then play with a 40-minute meeting, 35 minutes, and so forth. Trim the fat until you and your team have reached a comfortable limit that works for your team’s culture and way of discussing topics.

    The main takeaway from this first section is that meetings shouldn’t be viewed as these sacred things that can’t be changed, and they shouldn’t be the first thing you set up when you want to discuss something. Don’t have a meeting just to have a meeting, send an email or whatever for general updates, invite only relevant people to a meeting, don’t feel the urge to use an entire meeting block, and play around with a meeting structure that works best for your team.


How to Get the Most Out of Your Team Meetings

  1. Set an agenda. Assuming your team has easy access to email, send those agendas to your team with at least an 18-hour notice. This locks in the discussion and ensures that you aren’t scrambling for something to talk about a few minutes before the meeting starts. Likewise, this gives your team members the chance to review the agenda and think about what they want to ask or mention during the meeting. With this agenda, consider structure, priorities, results, sequence, and timing. What type of meeting will it be? What absolutely needs to be covered in this meeting? What needs to be accomplished during or after the meeting? In what order should the topics be covered? How much time should be spent on each topic?

  2. Be mindful of time. Show up on time and ask that others show up on time as well. Then start on time instead of holding off to wait for others to roll in. Choose someone, or yourself, to be a timekeeper, sticking to the agenda and staying relatively on topic. Now I’m not suggesting that this all has to be super strict, but putting in some effort toward order around time can go a long way for more fruitful meetings.

  3. Have a dedicated recorder or note taker. As in, someone who writes down notes about the meeting as it’s happening. Having meeting notes is important for tracking progress, sending to the team for reference or if someone was absent, and even to share with non-team members who are interested in a meeting’s topic. It can also help clarify in cases where there’s a misunderstanding about whether a topic was discussed in the past, like someone saying “That was never mentioned” or “We never talked about that until now.”

  4. Make sure everyone’s contributing. Remember, if someone’s in a meeting and they don’t contribute, they probably didn’t need to be in that meeting and could’ve just read the meeting notes afterward. Don’t force everyone to voice their opinion about every topic, but watch for those who are especially silent. This can get tricky because it gets into peoples’ personalities, as well as their interests, level of self-confidence, and all that. But you can build participation into the structure of the meeting with your agenda, like having a round robin of everyone giving updates, everyone giving an example of a problem or solution they encountered over the past week, things like that.

  5. End team meetings with action plans, and send follow ups and meeting notes afterward. Use the last few minutes of every meeting to discuss next steps and decide who will do what by when. And within 18 hours after the meeting, send out meeting notes to the team as a whole, and then follow-up notes, questions, or suggestions to individuals based on what was discussed.

    The main takeaway from this second section is that some order, some intentionality, can help you get more out of team meetings. Set an agenda, be mindful of time, have someone take notes, encourage participation, and have a system in place for action plans and follow-ups.


Miscommunication During Meetings

In our research that I reviewed in the previous episode, we asked employees a variety of questions about workplace communication, especially miscommunication. The survey question I want to focus on here is as follows: When you have meetings within your team, what tends to be the most frequent source of miscommunication?

Think about that for second. In the last episode I posed a similar question about one-on-ones with you and your team members. Now think about your team as a whole – when you meet with them, what tends to cause miscommunication?

Alright, so now that you’ve thought about that a bit, there are two trends from our data. First, about one-third of survey-takers indicated that the most frequent source of miscommunication in meetings is “Individuals interpreting messages and goals differently.” Second, a little under one-third indicated time-related reasons, including “Too much time being spent on unimportant topics,” as well as “not enough time allotted for thoughtful questions or discussion.” How do those reasons stack up against what you believe is the most common causes of miscommunication in team meetings?

Interpreting Messages or Goals Differently

The first trend of individuals interpreting messages or goals differently aligns strongly with what I discussed in episode 7, about conflict often being caused by differences in goals, assumptions, or personalities. So this result further underscores the need to ensure that when a difference of interpretation occurs, it needs to be clarified immediately. Or at least, when these misinterpretations are verbalized and known. It’d be good practice for you, and then to coach your team about, immediate clarification. If you say something that receives puzzled looks or someone misinterprets what you said, take a moment to back up and refine what you said. And try to create a team culture in which others feel comfortable doing that as well, to help minimize miscommunication and conflict.

Meeting Management

The second trend relates to time, of too much time being spent on unimportant topics and not enough time allotted for thoughtful questions or discussion. But if we look a bit deeper, those results are about time management, or meeting management. That’s where you come in. Like I discussed in the previous section, create an agenda for every team meeting and stick to it. Assign someone to be a timekeeper on topics, someone who doesn’t mind interrupting others or butting in to say “Time’s up, next topic.” Or you could do that too with a timer on your phone or computer.

If someone gets off-track for too long, interrupt them to let others speak or get the meeting back on track. Remember, most meetings are pointless or full of wasted time, and people, including yourself, who go off on tangents, rants, or ramblings just make people despise meetings all the more. Be intentional about what you discuss in meetings and for how long, setting the tone for how much leeway you give or allow for off-topic discussion and the like.

What this second trend wraps up into is that employees believe meeting mis-management is a frequent source of team miscommunication. When time for thoughtful questions and discussions is non-existent or squeezed out by unimportant or irrelevant topics, this doesn’t allow clarification and understanding to take root. Creating time for understanding and thoughtful discussion will help reduce miscommunication, which is directly related to the first trend about different interpretations of messages and goals.

The main takeaway from this third section is that team meetings, and really most meetings, need to stay on track and have time for clarification. This may seem conflicting with the first section of this episode where I suggested that you may want to cut down on meeting time. However, it’s not about the amount of time in a meeting, it’s about the quality of time usage in a meeting.



As a recap of this episode, I discussed some ways to think about and frame meetings, as well as common sources of miscommunication. Overall it’s about being intentional. Meetings shouldn’t be your go-to form of communication, especially when an entire team is involved. Be intentional about having meetings, what they’re about, who’s invited, and how much time you use. Likewise, be intentional about creating agendas and sticking to them, taking meeting notes, having a timekeeper, following up with individuals afterward, staying on-topic, and making time for clarification and understanding .

I mentioned this in the last episode, but it’s worth noting again: if you’re interested in learning more about our miscommunication research, check out our e-book titled The State of Miscommunication. It covers other topics like the role of technology in miscommunication, creating a voice-empowered culture, and more.

And that’s it for this episode! Join me next time on Manager Mysteries & Mishaps, where I’ll discuss new hires and onboarding.

Subscribe to

Manager Mysteries & Mishaps