Meetings have a bad reputation — and it might be deserved. Too often, they drag on and don’t accomplish enough, leaving employees frustrated and behind on their work. In a Harvard Business Review survey of senior managers across different industries, 71 percent found meetings to be unproductive and inefficient.
One way to make meetings productive? Get up and hold standing meetings.
“The research generally shows that they are as effective as sit-down meetings, but they take half as much time. So clearly there’s more focus and less wasted energy,” says Steven G. Rogelberg, Ph.D., professor of management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of “The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance.”
Standing-meeting participants are inclined to be more efficient because they’re not in a resting position. Research also shows that standing meetings promote collaboration and engagement and decrease territorial behavior.
“You’re less able to multitask and drift off in your mind. You’re not as comfortable, you’re not as relaxed, so those things tend to make you more present,” Rogelberg says.
To run a productive standing meeting, follow these steps.
Prepare Your Participants
Your co-workers are likely to assume they’ll be able to sit at meetings, so explain the change beforehand. Clearly define the parameters and your reasons for trying it. That way, your team knows what to expect and what materials to bring — for example, when standing, it’s easier to take handwritten notes or hold a tablet than type on a laptop. You could provide clipboards for people who want them.
If employees balk at the idea, explain that it’s an option you’re trying out. Mention the potential benefits and note that it’s an effort to save everyone’s time and boost productivity.
Keep Meetings Quick and Focused
“In general, standing meetings have to be shorter because it’s going to be taxing to people. You want to have a tighter, more focused agenda,” Rogelberg says.
Prepare an agenda that will take about 10 to 30 minutes to complete. That forces you to discuss only what’s really important, which saves time without sacrificing effectiveness. Eliminate any points that can be communicated through email or chat.
Limit the Group Size
If you plan to have a free-flowing discussion, stick with a smaller group so it’s easier to manage the conversation — think three to eight people.
“Can it be bigger? Yes, but the leader has even more responsibility to be an active facilitator,” Rogelberg says. “If it’s mostly one-way communication with a few questions, those meetings could be larger. It depends on whether it’s a discussion or just information dissemination.”
Consider Physical Needs
With standing meetings, fatigue could be a problem for some employees, and height differences between participants may create unintentional power dynamics.
Setting up your meeting space with high stools can help participants who need a rest or want to neutralize height differences. It’s important to be sensitive to co-workers’ physical abilities and remind everyone that it’s OK to sit if they want to.
“It’s making sure that, by choosing a particular modality, you’re not privileging a particular segment of your group,” Rogelberg says.
Use the Right Equipment
Consider what materials will be useful to your staff.
There’s no standard equipment; what matters is your goal for the meeting, Rogelberg says.
Whiteboards, for example, are ideal for standing meetings. They’re easy for multiple people to use at once, which promotes collaboration. They can also help the team organize or present its thoughts, keeping the meeting short and on topic.
Adjustable, portable lecterns are also effective because people can use laptops, handouts or notebooks while standing.
Just because standing meetings are short by design doesn’t mean you should skip the follow-up. Shortly after the meeting ends, email a summary to all participants outlining what was covered, what needs to be done next and by whom. Ensuring accountability will increase support for these types of meetings.
“Hopefully someone can volunteer to do a quick capturing of the meeting content right after,” Rogelberg says. Writing meeting minutes creates an official record of the discussion and provides participants with the key points.
Afterward, ask for feedback so you can structure future meetings in a way that works best for your team. Find out if standing had a positive effect on participants’ energy level, if the length of the meeting worked for them, if they have any physical concerns and what materials would make the meetings more effective.