According to a University of North Carolina cross-industry study cited by HBR in their Stop the Meeting Madness article, 71% of senior leaders said that meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
In addition to this, they said that meetings:
- Keep them from completing their required work (65%)
- Come at the expense of deep thinking (64%)
- Miss opportunities to bring the team closer together (62%)
My Poll Results
I do not find these results too surprising based on what I see in business meetings. However, a few weeks ago, I decided to do a quick, informal poll to gauge what the Thinking Business readers were experiencing. What follows are the results of the poll.
Over the last four weeks, on average, respondents said they:
- Allocated 57% of their time to meetings and related activities
- Attended 43 meetings
- Spent 67 hours attending meetings
- Had to work evenings or weekends because of time spent in meetings (67%)
- Worked 23 hours outside of normal work hours to keep up with workload caused by meetings
Although I did not use the same questions or level of sophistication that the cited study used, the results are the same. Business meetings are simply not being run effectively. The business world has gotten complacent with meetings and they have become ineffective.
So, what can be done to reverse this trend and bring effectiveness and productivity back to the business meeting?
13 Steps to Make Your Meetings Powerful and Effective
The elements of powerful and effective meetings will be different for every situation and every organization. However, implementing the following 13 steps will make a significant improvement in the effectiveness of any meeting. Note that the first seven of these steps come from a previous post while the remaining steps are feedback from the informal poll referenced above.
- Cancel the meeting if you can handle it with a simple conversation– If you can get the decision or information that you are looking for by simply talking to a few people then don’t waste everyone’s time with a meeting!
- Limit the attendees to the meeting. Only invite the people that are absolutely necessary. If people do not have any stake in what is being discussed then they do not need to attend.
- Set a clear agenda for the meeting. This should establish why the meeting is necessary, what is going to be covered and what the expected outcome is for the meeting.
- Ask the meeting participants for their thoughts after explaining the agenda and the desired outcomes but before diving into the meeting. As Atul Gawande says “empowering people a chance to speak at the beginning of an event, meeting, project seems to activate their sense of participation and willingness to speak up and share their thoughts and expertise during the event.”
- Have a designated person for taking meeting minutes. This does not have to be super formal. An informal set of notes that documents what was discussed and decided is all that is required.
- Record action items as part of the meeting notes. Assign an owner to the actions along with a due date.
- Follow up with the action items and the meeting decisions. By following up, you are setting the expectation that the meetings are a valuable part of the business and everyone will be held accountable to what was discussed and decided.
- Assign a meeting facilitator that has the authority to keep the participants on track while strategically and productively leading the meeting to fulfill the meeting purpose within the set time frame.
- Turn off all communication devices during the meeting (don’t just silence the devices). This will accelerate the pace of the meeting and eliminate any disruptions.
- Conduct all meetings with a “PAL” – Purpose, Agenda and Limits.
- People in the meeting must have the authority to follow through on the meeting actions.
- People in the meeting must participate. The fundamental purpose of a meeting is to collaborate, brainstorm, and share ideas, viewpoints, information, etc.. If there are people in the meeting who do not engage or participate, they should leave.
- Determine the type of meeting required before scheduling. There is no point scheduling a multi-hour meeting in a board room if an informal 15 minute “stand up” meeting will suffice.
Take a look at your organization this week and review all the scheduled meetings. Are there some meetings that you can cancel and return that time back to productive use?
Challenge your staff to rethink each meeting and decide if it is really necessary. Have someone sit in existing meetings as an “auditor” to assess the meeting effectiveness and provide suggestions and feedback on improving the meetings.
Step up and take an active role in building a work environment where ineffective meetings are not acceptable. Doing so will provide your staff the gift of valuable work time by canceling unproductive and unimportant meetings!
“The majority of meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions.” Patrick Lencioni
What experience do you have with productive meetings that may provide value to other readers? Leave your comments below!
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