The culture of meetings

Thara Nair

If 71% of meetings are unproductive, why do we still have them? Let's break down the culture of conversation.

Need to discuss something? What's the first thing we tend to do?

Call for a meeting!

But, if 71% of meetings are unproductive, why do we still have them?

In fact, how do we handle meetings? Let's break down the culture of conversation.

What's the intent?

In one phrase, we hold meetings to boost productivity, collaboration and provide support. In theory, this works out well but it's the practice that has it topsy-turvy.

Let's be clear here, this is not a rant against communication. Quick discussions can be very productive in addressing blockers, solutions and future steps. What's unproductive are those long, recurring meetings, held without a clear agenda and dominated by unnecessary chatter. It's the excessive meeting culture.

Types of meetings

  • Horizontal meetings

Attendees are usually team members or collaborators who come together to coordinate brainstorms, discussions or action items.

  • Vertical meetings

These take place along a chain of command and are usually one-on-one.

Changing the bad culture of meetings

So, where do things usually go wrong? It boils down to 3 things:

  • Timing
  • Turn up
  • Triviality

And the three T's are very much interrelated, so, you can't just fix one and ignore the others.


Starting late, ending late, holding a meeting at the wrong time or all at once are all indicators of poor workplace structure. There are tons of ways to ensure your meeting starts and ends on time. Unfortunately, it's almost become a meeting culture to leave your desk when the meeting is supposed to start, stop for a 'quick' coffee and stroll into a meeting late. All those minutes spent waiting add up quickly when more people join a meeting.

The idea of a meeting is that it's so important, you need to RSVP even if you can't make it. But that shouldn't be the case. If it illogically interrupts a productive time in your day or takes you away from priority work, it should be acceptable for you to just say 'no'. In the end, it really means respecting your colleagues and their time too.

Turn up

Who's going to attend this meeting? Is it only crucial people or have you, while trying to play it safe, invited everyone who breathes?

Having the wrong people in your conversation can not only take you off track, it can cause the wrong people to dominate the conversation. While this can be solved with a good meeting facilitator, it is easier to nip the problem in the bud and just leave them out. After all, this is where minute taking, note taking and a record of your conversations come in handy. You can have a distinct and productive meeting with a small group of people and share the actionable items and decisions with a larger group later. Or you could just say "Action point for..." and I'll take those notes for you. All you'd have to do is then click send to share the meeting minutes with your team.


So, you've got an agenda, and the right people... but you're still losing out with unproductive meetings. This is when you look at what is said during your meetings. How minor are the points being raised? It is common in meetings for participants to want to engage in conversation by offering up any point. What we need to understand is there are no marks, points or brownie cookies given for participation. Instead, what meetings need to focus on is production.

What have you all gotten out of that meeting? Was it a one-way conversation or dominated by two voices? If your point is minor or only directed at one person, why bring it up at a team meeting?

Here is the Notiv™ quick post-meeting recap:

How successfully would you rate this meeting?

  • Was everyone heard?
  • Was everyone an active participant?
  • Did we solve the real issue?
  • Did we review the to-do list?

Rating (1 being the lowest, 10 being the best): ________

Meetings aren't the bad guys although they take on all the criticism. Often times, poor planning and a lack of follow-through drive unproductivity. Analyze the way you and your team hold meetings and conversations. And, rather than looking at it negatively, treat it as an opportunity. Find out how you can get a meeting coach that will save you time and money. After all, less is more and your meetings affect your culture as much as culture affects meetings.

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