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The amount of time business executives spend in meetings in the U.S. is substantial. According to a 1998 MCI Conferencing white paper, U.S. workers attended about 11 million meetings (cumulatively) a year, spending an average of six hours per week. Supervisors spent even more time in meetings, averaging about 23 hours in meetings per week. That is about half of every work-week. And, “people working for large organizations tend to have more meetings than those in smaller ones.” So the bigger the company, the more meetings had and more time spent in them.
Moreover, time spent in meetings is on the rise. A survey of 1,900 business leaders found that 72% of execs reported spending more time in meetings in 2015 than they did five years before. Moreover, about half expected “time spent in meetings” to increase in the future. It makes sense. Flatter and more tech-driven organizations have increasingly turned to self-directed teams, such as Agile teams. Employees in these teams are empowered to act and pursue improvements as they see fit with the view that they are the ones with the information, insights and resources to make ideas and innovation happen. So, meetings are useful for teamwork. Meetings can be an excellent way to disseminate a vision, fashion a strategic plan, develop a response to challenges and opportunities, brainstorm and gather ideas, and generate higher levels of employee involvement.
It makes sense that meetings should be seen as desirable and worthwhile. Management should have a “the more, the better” view of meetings. Yet, meetings have a terrible reputation for being places where time is usually squandered. Why? Because there is often a disconnect between what happens before and during a meeting with what happens after a meeting. It is in the aftermath of meetings where things go awry. The more complicated the project, problem or program addressed, the more likely for things discussed in a meeting to get sidelined, stuck, forgotten or flushed.
When that happens, it is not just the time spent preparing for and in the meeting thrown away. The benefits from those ideas or plans also vanish. A great idea that dies on the vine could cost a company thousands or millions… or even cost their very existence.
Case in point. Back in 2004, Blockbuster Video had the chance to purchase Netflix for $50 million and didn’t. The leadership refused to listen to managers who discussed how technology changes were disrupting their industry. The leadership refused to listen when, at staff meetings, employees communicated how much Blockbuster customers HATED late fees. The leadership refused to listen to high level managers dealing with their property leases who warned that the cost of so many retail locations was eating into their profits. For a while, the leadership, Board of Directors and investors chose to bury their heads in the sand. Recommendations and ideas hatched at meetings were allowed to die on the vine. This went on only for a while because by 2011, it was obvious that Netflix’ exponential growth reflected a fundamental shift in the marketplace from entertainment “rental” to entertainment streaming. Seeing Netflix’ tremendous success, Blockbuster finally made several moves to copy Netflix, only they were too late. By the time they started listening to the suggestions of their management teams, they had already lost their customer base. Not only were the meetings a waste of time, but the failure to capitalize on the ideas discussed at those meetings cost the company its very existence.
Meetings are essential because they help companies to leverage the organizational networks that affect how things get done – or don’t get done – in enterprises. And, meetings that don’t produce results amounts to terrible corporate waste. Therefore, it is imperative that the seeds of ideas and proposals planted at meetings are nurtured and cultivated.
Seven Best Practices to Maximize Meeting Effectiveness
- Assign a Meeting Manager.
Ensure that there is one person assigned to follow up with every person handling some part of the work to be done. The meeting manager should check in at appropriate intervals to ensure commitments are being honored, or re-evaluated if something unexpected arises.
- Assign someone to take notes during the Meeting. Someone should be assigned at every meeting to take notes, and it should not be the same person every meeting. This is important not just to ensure that what happened at the meeting is memorialized, but also it ensures that everyone in the meeting is focused on the meeting, not on taking notes. The more content a person tries to capture during a lecture or a meeting, the less they are thinking about what is being said. It is difficult to be insightful or creative when so much attention is consumed by parroting the speakers.Here is what the notes should include:
- Date, time and location of the meeting
- Attendees – name and title
- Key points raised and decisions made
- Who is responsible for what follow-up action and by when
- Name of the Recorder
- Circulate notes from the Meeting.
Those notes must be clear, concise but detailed to ensure that it reflects accurately what needs to be done and upon what variables it is dependent. Clarity is key. Those notes should be shared within 24 hours of the meeting, and sent to everyone who attended the meeting and anyone else who needs to be kept informed of the meeting’s purpose and outcomes.
- Establish Tasks and Deadlines and Assign Responsibilities.
At the end of each topic in a meeting, stop to gain agreement on next steps and set clear responsibilities for tasks with deadlines. Do not use the date of an event, such as the next meeting or a conference, as the defacto deadline. Determine what is the necessary deadline for each task.
- Communicate How Deadlines will be Handled.Let people know that they can negotiate when making commitments, especially with regard to due dates. Communicate that each commitment will be fulfilled as agreed upon. If something comes up, then the person must reach out to discuss the change with the meeting manager. Otherwise, once a deadline is established, it is firm unless there is agreement with the Meeting Manager on a change of deadline.
- Keep an Archive of all Meeting Materials.
All meeting documents including the agenda, minutes and supporting documents should be gathered and archived. Either using a Project Management system or just a physical log, these records can serve as a resource to check if/when questions arise about decisions, actions and commitments. This keeps things straight so that there are no issues later.
- Share Post-Meeting Updates.
It is imperative to keep everyone in the loop about what has been accomplished and what is still pending for any plan, project or program developed from a meeting. If 80% of the tasks are done and the tracking and follow-up stops, then team members begin to understand that all that is needed is to show a strong start and then a project can be dropped or left to languish. Only by circulating notes that reflect 90% completion with pending items does it become clear that updates will only stop when 100% of all assigned tasks are done, or cancelled, if necessary.
Starting this week, use these tips to create a culture of productivity and accountability at team, department or leadership meetings. Try it at just a few meetings and see if the meeting outcomes measurably improve. At the very least, it should make every person at the meeting feel that their time was used wisely.
Quote of the Week
“I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda for more meetings about meetings.” Jonah Goldberg
© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.