I was sitting through a board meeting a few weeks ago staring at the clock when I realized that every second ticking by was an instant of time gone forever. I thought about all the ways I could have spent this time – emails, projects, research. Nothing particularly exciting, but all things needing my attention. This made the meeting feel even longer and did not help my mood.
I would have been fine if the meeting had been worthwhile, but it was disorganized and irrelevant. Topics seemed thrown together, in-fighting took us off track, and it ended without any resolution. My life and those of my fellow attendees were the same as they had been two hours prior, with the only exception being that two hours had passed. Seems I’m not alone.
When an internationally recognized technology company surveyed its 30,000 employees, they found that only 54% of time spent in meetings was beneficial. This wasted time is a time-killer, an engagement-killer, and a profitability-killer. Yet, meetings remain our go-to means of communicating. Since there is no sign this will be changing any time soon, we can either settle for how it’s currently being done or work towards improving effectiveness. For those of us who choose the latter, here are four areas of focus that will help you make a better use of meetings.
I use to work with someone who scheduled organization-wide management meetings on a semi-regular basis. People would fly in from all over the country to attend. The problem is that they didn’t know why… and how could they? The CEO didn’t start planning it until the day before.
This meeting is so important that I am willing to set aside everything else that I could be doing to join with the other attendees. – Thomas Kayser
Meetings have three general purposes – share information, seek input for a decision, or make a decision. If it’s none of these, are you sure you need to get together? When considering whether a meeting will meet your needs, ask yourself:
Have I thought this through? Before collecting your brain trust, determine the project’s scope, preliminary steps, and end result. If you’ve completed this and still need a meeting, go for it.
Do I need input? Every decision does not necessitate or benefit from a collaborate exchange of ideas. As the leader, sometimes you need to go it alone.
Is a face-to-face conversation necessary? If the purpose of your meeting is to share information, maybe an email can do the trick. If you need feedback, conference calls, chat boards, and web meetings can all be viable options that decrease travel time while providing a more personal approach.
Quick Fix: Know why you are scheduling a meeting and what you hope to achieve.
Meetings cost money, and I’m not referring to a cover charge. According to the Wharton Center for Applied Research, the average CEO spends 17 hours per week in meetings, senior executives spend 23 hours, and middle managers 11 hours. When you calculate their hourly wage, the dollar cost is surprising. And this does not include such other factors as:
- Wages for those who prepared the meeting (One study from Bain found that people spent 300,000 hours a year just supporting the weekly executive committee meeting.
- Coverage by those overseeing the attendees’ duties
- Materials – handouts, presentations, videos, guides
- Travel – lodging, meals, airfare, mileage
- Costs associated with facilities, speaker, equipment, IT
If you want a quick gauge to price your meetings: take the average hourly wage of attendees (= annual salary/2080) x the number of attendees x the duration of the meeting. Then added 10-20% to account for the supplemental expenses. With this price tag, how much value must the meeting generate to make it financially sensible?
Quick Fix: Decrease the time spent in meetings by decreasing the default time. Just because Outlook automatically books it for an hour, doesn’t mean you have to agree.
Size and Composition
Meetings tend to be bloated. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings so a one-time invitation becomes a weekly obligation. As described in the Rule of 7, every attendee over a total of seven reduces the likelihood of making a quality, executable decision by 10%. This means a group of 17 or more has the potential of close to 0% decision effectiveness.
Quick Fix: Un-invite everyone who does not have an active role in the meeting.
It is your responsibility to improve the effectiveness of every meeting. This is not as overwhelming as it sounds. Once you have your purpose, can support why a meeting is necessary, and invite the right people, there are few simple disciplines you can utilize:
Choose a facilitator. This individual keeps the meeting on task. For added effectiveness, give this individual the power to excuse those who are unfocused, unprepared, or are not needed in this meeting.
Choose topic leaders. Just because you organized the meeting, doesn’t mean you have to do all the talking. When identifying these individuals, give them some time to prepare before they are expected to present.
Create an agenda. Know what is being discussed and the order it will be presented. List agenda topics as questions so attendees can prepare for the discussion and monitor whether their own comments are on track.
Have someone take notes. This becomes your “decision log” to capture every decision made in a meeting and inform those not in attendance of what took place.
Ban multitasking. Over 70% of people bring other work to meetings. This is a sure sign that either he/she is not needed in the meeting or the meeting is not needed. At the outset of every meeting ask for everyone’s full attention. Have them set their phones on a separate table, close laptops, and focus.
Quick Fix: End meetings with a solid understanding of what you’ve accomplished and next steps.
Meetings don’t have to be painful. In fact, if done right, people will look forward to your meetings. Besides your winning personality, they will appreciate how you are considerate of their time. Being organized, prepared, and purpose-driven have a way of making this evident. Take some time to do it right and you’ll save time in the end.