Four colleagues sit at a table together and discuss work in a team meeting.

Return-to-Work: Time to Improve Your Meeting Culture 

I have good news and bad news for people who struggled with remote meetings in the WFH era. 

The bad news: If your Zoom meetings are boring, quiet, poorly attended (or attended to), and unproductive, your in-person meetings were probably just as bad. And, even after returning to the office (or a hybrid), it’s likely your in-person meetings will continue to be bad. 

The good news: You’re not alone, and it is fixable. In fact, returning to the office is the perfect time to fix your meetings. It’s all about strategic inflection points. 

Strategic inflection points are times when the organization is undergoing change, usually from external forces. Organizational culture has momentum, based on individual habits and supported by group norms, and that makes change challenging.  

When external change happens it creates an inflection point: Individual habits and cultural momentum weaken, presenting an opportunity for easier strategic changes.  

Return-to-the-office is becoming a strategic inflection point for many organizations. People have built habits around working from home. At least some of those habits will have to change. 

Meeting culture is part of an organization’s overall culture. Your team has developed habitual responses to what happens in meetings. They have spent the past year transferring the habits developed for in-person meetings to remote meetings. They will probably transfer them again to in-person meetings unless you implement change. 

As you start having in-person meetings again, you can do them better: 

  • (Almost) all meetings are optional for all attendees. 
  • All meetings have an agenda. 
  • The agenda shows why it is valuable to attend. 
  • Attendees use the agenda to prepare for the meeting. 
  • The agenda helps keep the meeting on track. 
  • All meetings have a real-time, shared, and accessible note of what happened. 
  • Most meetings are not led or even called by the highest-ranking person in the room. 
  • Everyone who attends gets a work item more often than not; “peepers” (who attend because they might hear something interesting) are disinvited. 
  • As many meetings as possible have a facilitator, who is NOT the meeting leader. 

Right now, everyone will likely be more accepting of these changes because change is happening anyway. Let them know there will be a meeting culture change. Explain the new culture and tell them you’ll hold them accountable. Then – even more importantly – hold them accountable. 

Even if your team has traditionally rolled its collective eyes every time a meeting invite pops up in their inbox in the past, this doesn’t have to continue. At a time when changes – some good and some bad – are already happening, make a positive meeting culture change in your organization.  

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