We have all joked about meetings at work or rather the pointlessness of them. The flak that business meetings receive is not without reason, either. This infographic shows all the various ways people waste their time at work; workplace meetings are right at the top of the ladder.
Don’t get us wrong, meetings are important. They can help keep teams on track, aid quick problem solving, and even take an organisation towards agility.
The problem is that a lot of business meetings are not efficient. It does not help that meetings, over the last few decades, have only grown longer and more frequent. On the face of it, inefficient meetings lead to wastage of time, and hence, resources. However, the problem can run deeper.
The Problem With Inefficient Business Meetings
Companies can pay a stiff price for ineffective meetings. Research suggests that organisations that frequently deal with meandering conversations, complaints, and criticism at meetings have a low market share. Frequently bad meetings can also adversely affect employee satisfaction. Job satisfaction is closely related good communication and collaboration at work. Even when other factors such as pay and supervision are good, or at least, satisfactory, wasteful hours at meetings can take their toll. Lower job satisfaction is directly related to higher attrition rates.
And then there is the cost of innovation. When people are frequently distracted by meetings, they can find it hard to focus on higher cognitive tasks, which can hamper their creativity.
Getting the Most Out of Business Meetings
Meetings, when conducted well, can foster collaboration and teamwork. In order to get there, though, managers need to identify where the problem lies. Meetings affect group time as well as individual time. Problem arises when either of those times are adversely affected by meetings.
Wastage of group time
Certain companies might not hold meetings very frequently. However, they could be poorly run, which means people can’t get the most of out of group collaborations. Common causes for this sort of time and opportunity wastage include:
Lack of a clear agenda
Last-minute scheduling and rescheduling
Unclear communication and lack of participation from all participants
People doing individual tasks, such as answering emails
Wastage of individual time
Lot of times, meetings can be efficiently run, but the sheer volume of meetings can take its toll. It can disrupt people’s work schedule and interrupt deep thinking. Very often, when there are excessive meetings, employees can find it hard to meet individual deadlines. This can snowball into them taking their work home, leading to burnout, and eventually, lower job satisfaction. It can be a vicious cycle.
Wastage of group and individual time
This is the worst case scenario, but it can happen. Some organisations could be running too many meetings that are badly run, leading to inefficient use of group and individual time.
How to Identify the Problem?
As a manager, how do you find out if your meetings are a waste of group time, individual time, or both? Start by asking people at your organisation. Interviews and surveys are the simplest tools available to collect data. You might be surprised how much resentment is building under the surface.
Once you have the information, analysing it is the next step. It can be tempting to outsource the analysis to a consultant, or delegate it to a small team within the organisation. However, it needs to be a group activity that involves all the stakeholders. Employees need to be encouraged to share their thoughts on the collated information and suggest reforms. It is at the analysis stage that you start to see the problems, if there are any. For instance, you might find that there are so many meetings during the day that it leaves people with hardly any time for deep, concentrated work.
Here are some of the most common problem areas with badly run business meetings:
A couple of people dominating the meetings
When you have a 30 minute meeting with 6 people, it can be tough to ensure that every participant gets equal time to put forward their views. However, the idea is to encourage broader participation. When you see an individual dominating the discussion, ask the concerned person to hold their views while you get others in on the topic. If someone was cut off before they could complete, come back to them before you move on to the next thought. If you are concerned about certain individuals dominating a meeting too much, talk to them after the meeting. Ask them to encourage people to participate in discussions the next time around. When you put the onus on people to lead, they tend to act more responsibly.
People are distracted
Very often, people can be on their phones answering texts, or on their laptops, answering emails. This not only leads to lesser participation from people, it also sends a message that the meeting is not that important. If it happens too frequently, it can be detrimental to collaborative work in the organisation. Start with a “no device” policy. If it is challenging to implement the culture throughout the organisation, set an example. As the leader of the meeting, leave your phone and laptop outside. Indicate clearly that it is a “no device” meeting,
Meetings seem like deja-vu
Very often, people can feel like every meeting is about the same issues and nothing gets done in between. To avoid pointless meetings, send out the minutes of a meeting within a couple of hours of it being finished. The minutes should clearly state the issues discussed, the solutions agreed upon, and the tasks assigned. Before scheduling the next meeting, check where everyone is on their respective tasks. Ideally, you should aim for a group completion rate of 80-85%. If progress is lagging, have a one-on-one chat with the concerned employees and find out the reasons for the delay.
Broad Tips For More Efficient Workplace Meetings
It is (almost) impossible to eliminate complaints about business meetings. However, the goal should be to reduce them, and make your meetings as efficient as possible. Here are a few strategies to help you achieve that goal.
Limit the number of participants
To avoid meandering conversations and agendas getting sidestepped, only invite people who are essential to a meeting. For example, Amazon has a two-pizza rule for meetings. Fewer participants also tends to encourage broader participation.
Set the agenda
This one looks obvious, but very often, it is overlooked. Even before you schedule a meeting, set a clear goal. Sharing relevant documents with participants beforehand can make your meetings shorter and more efficient.
Identify a leader
Someone should be responsible for running the meeting. They set the agenda, encourage participation, and are responsible for breaking the ice, when the situation demands. Without a clear leader, meetings can be a wild goose chase.
Give PowerPoint a break
PowerPoint is banned at Amazon’s business meetings. While that may be a little extreme, if you are using PowerPoint to narrate a presentation verbatim, it is pointless. Use visuals only as a cue for the next part of the meeting, or even to inject a little humor, but that’s about it.
Ditch the boardroom
Conference rooms are convenient for team meetings. However, once in a while, break the monotony. It can inspire creativity. If it is a one-on-one meeting, maybe talk over a walk. Taking your team off-location for a day of meetings can also be a fun way to get things done.
Keep meetings time bound
To avoid meetings that seem to go on forever, set a clear start and end time. When you are doing that, make sure you account for logistics. For instance, if the meeting is in another wing of the office, account for the walking time. Similarly, if there is a meeting scheduled before yours, account for the time it will take people from the previous meeting to disperse. Use technology to schedule meetings without the constant back-and-forth emails.
And keep the duration of meetings towards the lower end of the spectrum. For example, if you think 30 minutes is enough to discuss the action items, limit the duration to 25 minutes. When you stipulate a certain duration for a task, people tend to fill that time, even though it might not be necessary. It is Parkinson’s Law at work.
Regularly Take Stock
Improving the efficiency of business meetings is not a one-off task. It is an ongoing process. Even after you have implemented all or some of the ideas listed here, it is important to regularly collect feedback from employees. Frequently talking about the efficiency of meetings can also foster a more tolerant work atmosphere where people give and receive constructive criticism.
Regular discussions also become important as you start to bring in changes to the work culture. People tend to be slow to adapt to change. Regular debriefing can help them transition to more efficient ways of running and participating in business meetings.