“Ask any group of managers in any country in the world to list their three most time-consuming activities. Invariably, ‘meetings’ will appear among the three. I have asked this question of more than 200 groups, and in every case but three, more than three-quarters of each group indicated that half their time spent in meetings is wasted.”
In the last five years, I have spent over 50% of my working time in all kinds of meetings. Meetings range from: one on one interaction, a few individuals seating around a small round table in an office, many individuals seating in the main conference room, all the way to breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings at restaurants, as well as big workshops/conferences at hotels and resorts. This is the way the modern organisation works. However, while meetings have a real purpose, if not well-managed, they can turn into a ‘thing’ dreaded by many in the modern organisation.
Those of us that are familiar with Microsoft’s Outlook meeting management software, please take time and analyse the number of times your work colleagues decline meeting invitations, choose the ‘Maybe’ I will attend option as opposed to a definitive ‘No’ or ‘Yes’. Even more significant and worrying, colleagues accept the meeting invitation but with their laptop in hand and open, as soon as the meeting gets underway. In sociocultural settings where people find saying ‘No’ a difficult proposition, they physically attend meetings, but in truth, they are ‘mentally absent’. In effect, staff attend meetings, only because they can not say ‘No’ to the person calling the meeting.
As a result of the above, meetings acquire all sorts of connotation: time-wasters; weak-leader tool; talk-shops; individual show-casing tool; organisational climate destroyers; score-settling tool; management by committee tool; you can add others to the list.
Already castigated by many in the modern organisation, meetings get cast in even more bad light, purely out of the manner in which they are managed. Meetings tend to run too long, suffer from agenda-creep, never weigh the cost-benefit of having or not having them and are increasingly used as a management routine/tool than enabler.
I am of the view that meetings are ‘enablers’ and not the norm in the daily management of a modern organisation. Meetings should facilitate and accompany decision-making where necessary, but should never replace ‘the decision-making process’ at individual and functional level. Most important of all, meetings should be effective and efficient – in terms of participant targeting, agenda focusing, and their management. Without this change in paradigm to meeting management, many in the modern organisation will continue to dread and avoid them.
I hate calling and chairing a meeting where I know the majority of participants prefer doing something else than sit in the meeting. I find this disrespectful to those I am dragging into the meeting, and the onus is on me to address this anomaly. Unfortunately, many leaders and managers do not think this way and will continue to drag you into meetings that you don’t want, are not mentally engaged in, and simply take away time from your mundane job.
There are meetings, and meetings about meetings and meetings to plan reports, and meetings to review the status of reports. And what these meetings are about is people just trying to figure out what they are doing.”Paul Strassmann
Why stem the above situation in the modern organisation?
- 50%+ of those that attend meetings switch off for the main part of the meeting. So why don’t you simply leave them alone. The problem is not theirs alone, but you the meeting initiator too. 43% executives admitted to dosing off during meetings
- More important work for the organisation than that discussed at meetings ends up not done
- Meetings are a talk shop
- The collective intelligence of the group turns out to be less than the sum of its members’ IQs.”
- We do not have to always meet in person (physically) there are technology alternatives that can make meetings more effective and efficient
- A lot of organisational resources that can be leveraged to acquire alternative value proposition get spent on meetings i.e. time, travel stipend, fatigue, etc
- Meetings create an un-ending cycle of tasks for the modern worker. The latter results in assigning of idle tasks, un-necessary workload, fatigue, demotivation, and staff turnover
- Meetings have turned into staff performance management tools – no, they do not have to be. Managers need to explore other means to managing staff performance
- Meetings are a ‘window-dressing’ tool to rubber stamp decisions that are already made by senior management.
- Companies and their staff do not innovate in meetings
How to run effective and efficient meetings:
I often remind readers of Gabazira’s blog that it is possible to achieve effectiveness but without efficiency. Effectiveness is derived when we achieve our goals while efficiency is derived when we achieve goals but in a cost-effective manner. You need to run both effective and efficient meetings to derive SMART value for your organisations – in my past blogs, I have called this twin process, ‘SMART-effectiveness’.
Tips for running effective and efficient meetings?
- Invite few people to meetings. Criteria: ensure you have an ACCOUNTABILITY and not RESPONSIBILITY line for the subject of the meeting. Those who are ‘accountable’ and at the meeting, shall feedback to the ‘responsible.’
- Tap the potential of digital technology: Skype meetings are an option and there are many other similar tools like Webex, etc. Tell you what, uptake will be minimal at the start, and you will face resistance as you change paradigm, but, in the long run, you will reap rewards for running effective and efficient meetings. Try and quantify the savings on travel time, travel stipend, etc
- Define the meeting type. Is it a decision-making meeting, exploratory meeting, Information only meeting? Please stick to it
- Define the specific Objective/s of the meeting and again stick to it at the meeting. Avoid both purpose and objective creep at meetings you manage
- Define the length of time for the meeting and stick to it
- Make every attempt to discuss overarching strategic content at meetings. Tactical and operational decision-making is territory for function heads and their teams
- For regular meetings i.e., Senor Management Team, consider having standing agenda items. For example, progress against annual business plan targets; risk register review; revenue status, etc
- Consider using dashboards to summarise discussion, decisions made, person responsible and progress made
My takeaway: Meetings are a powerful management-enabler, but if managed poorly, can turn into resource wasters, bring unneccessary pressure on staff and the accompanying demotivation.
Why is it hard for leaders and managers to change their meeting management habits?
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