Effective Business Meetings Equal 37 Billion Dollars per Year

And that dollar figure only applies to the United States! While meetings are a necessary activity, at times you may be sitting there wondering when it will be over, if you got anything out of the meeting, or why you were even there. When 11 million meetings occur each day in the U.S. and 71% of employees feel those meetings are unproductive, clearly there’s improvement to be made. (Source: Socialcast.com)

1604meetinginfographicSource: abettersolution.biz

The Dark Side of Meetings

Meetings started out innocuously enough as a means to gather people together to discuss important topics and enhance the way organizations were managed. Some used Robert’s Rules of Order to ensure a good outcome. Now, it seems difficult to get attendees to be on time, much less focused on the topic.

See if you recognize these common scenarios:

  • Rambling meetings – where the topic that was supposed to be discussed never is and the meeting is frequently hijacked by someone who says, “Before we start, I’d like to cover one item…” (aka the tangent troublemaker)
  • Distracted attendees – where people in the room (or on the phone) are texting, answering emails, having side conversations, or exchanging knowing looks with each other. Anything but paying attention to the meeting topic or speaker.
  • Unprepared attendees – these fine folks are very important, busy and rushed. They show up to the meeting with no idea why they are there or that they were supposed to have prepared a presentation, read the 50 page report, or updated the metric for which they are responsible ahead of time.
  • The “Endless Brainstorm” syndrome – where lots of discussion takes place, but no decisions are made, no action is taken and no one follows up on anything.
  • The Awkward Silence meeting – when the organizer says, “Okay, who wants to start?” and no one responds. Or at the end of a presentation, the presenter says, “Who has questions or comments?” and hears only crickets.

Most employees attend 62 meetings per month, on average. That is an expensive proposition if they are a waste of time and money, upwards of $1,000 per hour potentially. So, how can you avoid this pitfall that affects every organization? By following a few simple guidelines, you will see an improvement in not only productivity, but morale as well. People desire a sense of accomplishment in their work and the hours spent in meetings do not have to be fruitless.

Making Meetings Effective

Over several decades of working with teams and organizations, we have identified six strategies that result in successful meetings.

1. Have a clear objective or goal for the meeting.  In other words, begin with the end in mind. Are you trying to make a decision? Generate ideas/brainstorm? Make recommendations to others? Try to finish this sentence: At the close of the meeting, I want the group to… Have the objective at the top of your agenda (see #2 below) and state it at the beginning of the meeting, state it again in the middle and again at the close. Aristotle wasn’t wrong when he gave advice on speech making: Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you’ve told them.

2. Set an Agenda and deliver it in advance.   Develop the agenda well ahead of time and take into account the objective (see #1 above), the participants (who should attend the meeting), the sequence of topics, how long each topic will take (allow for discussion time if necessary), and the role each person is expected to fill (is data needed to make a decision that is only available from the finance department, will you ask for a volunteer or assign someone to take notes and deliver them within 48 hours, can someone be tasked with moderating so the agenda continues on time and on topic.)

3. Identify the appropriate attendees.    Again, keeping the objective in mind, who should attend is the next topic. Don’t forget that other people, departments, or divisions may be affected by the decision or action taken in this meeting; ask a representative from elsewhere in the organization to make sure you are taking other perspectives into account. Also keep in mind your career paths and developments plans and include junior members of the staff, even if their role is only to observe.

4. Set Ground Rules.   Some good, basic ones are: arrive on time, turn off mobile phones and other electronic devices, respect the speaker, and when you disagree – suggest an alternative. Others might include giving the headline or conclusion first (versus using example after example or saying things like but we’ve always done it this way), or ELMO (enough, let’s move on.) Remember, stick to that agenda.

5. Use a visual of some sort.    This includes PowerPoint, videos, flip charts, posters/pictures or other visual tools. Attendees will remain more engaged and studies have shown that the use of these tools are perceived to be more persuasive, credible and effective. By talking and using a visual, two of the three types of learning styles are being utilized.

6. Implement accountability measures.    Two great ways to do this is to have a scribe take notes and distribute them to attendees within a specified time-frame. The notes should include actions assigned (who and a due date), decisions made, completed items/discussion points, and any open items that need to be discussed at a future date. (If you stuck to your agenda, you may have off topic items that need additional time.) The second method involves a verbal summary at the end of the meeting. Saying, “John, you agreed to do X by Monday and Kim, you and Sue will work together to bring us a recommendation on Project Y by April 1” cements the discussion. Then you have to be diligent about following up with John, Kim and Sue and the rest of the attendees so they know you are serious. Next meeting, assign an attendee to do the follow-up so it becomes ingrained as a habit for everyone.

groupmeetingFor More on Effective Meetings

Some additional resources on this topic: “Death by Meeting”, by Patrick Lencioni. Or, read about Red Hat and how they use meetings to encourage their employees to speak up during meetings.   To assess your meetings, contact us for our Meeting Scorecard to identify the areas you can improve.

Some questions to keep in mind:
  • Are your meetings effective and decisive?
  • Do you consider the true cost of meetings when several leadership team members are present?
  • How can you become even more successful at having meetings that leave the attendees energized and accountable?

 If your organization needs help with improving meetings and making them more effective, call on our experts to help at 1-800-786-4332 or email Candace at cclemmer@appliedvisionworks.com.

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