Meetings are important. They’re the means through which collaboration and cooperation can take root and a project or goal is accomplished in the best way possible. Well, that’s the ideal scenario at least. But while we all know in the back of our minds that meetings are important, the meetings we go to usually (unfortunately) miss the mark. We see an invite to a meeting by someone, and regardless of whether we know the person or not, or if we see or understand the agenda (if there is any to begin with), we accept it. We get ourselves invited to dozens of these meetings throughout the year, but which of these really were we supposed to be part of? Were the time and effort we invested to attend these meetings worth it? For many, the answer is likely a resounding “no.”
MeetingKing pegged the number of meetings in the United States to be at around 11 million every single business day. The waste and loss that goes with those meetings? A staggering $37 billion, estimated. Going further, MeetingKing states that 37% of an employee’s time on average is spend in meetings, where in turn 25-50% of meeting time goes to waste. As a result, participants either tend to doze off, doodle or create other discreet distractions, or try to do other tasks. Even when you take that last bit, all of these things defeat the purpose of having a meeting in the first place.
To put it more into perspective, consider for example an executive who earns around $100,000. Approximately $40,000 of that amount will be spent directly in attending meetings. And that’s beside the time needed to prepare for meetings, as well as the cost associated with travel (or technology) required for these meetings to come to fruition. There’s money in meetings, and effective meetings enable an organization to maximize the resources allotted for them. In fact, investing in effective meetings can pay off in a very significant way.
>> Recommended reading: Guide for Effective Meetings – How to use time well and deal with anxiety
Bad meetings are bad for business
But before anything else, we need to realize that the crux of the matter is that put simply, bad meetings are bad for business (in the same way that effective meetings are good for business). It’s a waste of time. Nothing is accomplished. To drive the point home, let’s look at the ways bad meetings can profoundly hinder an organizations’ success.
It’s a waste of time
How long does a typical meeting last? Around an hour. Especially for managers, they see and attend multiple meetings a day. Given the typical 8-hour workday, attending four meetings already means half of the day is gone. And when these meetings are the bad kind, you’ve basically wasted half a workday. That time could be spent doing something productive, or the meeting could have actually accomplished something if had more direction. And especially for businesses, wasted time means lost opportunities, lost productivity, and a lower bottom line. Simply put, the time wasted by meetings ultimate cost the company money.
It’s a motivation and momentum killer
How many times have any of you experienced this: You’ve hit your stride in accomplishing and completing a certain task; you think you’ll be finished faster that you earlier anticipated. But then a meeting comes along, and after you’re done you feel less motivated. You feel lost, you ask yourself (and your colleagues), “where was I again?” As such, you lost the momentum you had earlier and you suddenly don’t feel as driven or as committed to finishing it as you did before you attended that meeting. Ineffective meetings are simply EXHAUSTING. Even if you spent your time just doodling, or discreetly surfing the web, ineffective meetings take a huge toll on participants.
>> Recommended reading: The Link Between Productivity, Workplace Culture, and Health
They’re bad for organizational culture
Meetings are in a way, a microcosm of the company culture. By extension, bad meetings are not only a reflection of a bad side of company culture, but can also adversely affect that culture. Remember the negative feelings and negative energy cause by bad meetings? Participants bring that with them outside the conference room. They bring those mental downers when they sit down to work on their actual tasks, and in many cases, they infect their other co-workers, even those that weren’t in the meeting in the first place. Bad meetings cause stress and frustration about one’s work and tasks, one’s colleagues and co-workers, and even for one’s company and organization.
On the other hand, effective meetings inspire and drive people to do better. They can promote respect and a stronger organizational culture — who doesn’t love an effective meeting moderator? Who doesn’t love a charismatic executive who makes meetings fun, engaging and informative?
Another part of organizational culture that bad meetings negatively affect is the discipline of time management. We’ve already established that ineffective meetings are a waste of time and resources, but they also promote a lack of discipline when it comes to managing time. A meeting that exceeds the allotted time limit (as they often do) indirectly communicates that time isn’t as important as it should be. That it’s okay for tasks to be late or for deadlines to be unmet. An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that “most companies have an opportunity to liberate at least 20% of their collective hours by bringing greater discipline to time management.” That a staggering figure, especially if you consider what other essential tasks, projects or initiatives that extra time could be used for.
>> Recommended reading: The Agile Organization is the Organization of the Future
Five essential tips on how to conduct effective meetings
So what are the building blocks of effective meetings? How should effective meetings be conducted?
1. Have a clear agenda
Many experts have a unanimous consensus on this being one of the most integral parts of effective meetings. Quoting Neal Hartman, a senior lecturer in managerial communication at MIT Sloan School of Management, a Forbes article challenges would-be meeting holders and facilitators to ask themselves questions like what the session seeks to accomplish. Define the purpose of the meeting, whether it is to inform people about a particular change, or if a consensus is being sought on an important decision. The more vague you are about your purpose, the more a waste of time that meeting will be.
In the same vein, a New York Times story quotes Annette Catino, chief executive of the QualCare Alliance Network as saying, “Give me an agenda or else I’m not going to sit there, because if I don’t know why we’re in the meeting, then there’s no reason for a meeting.” If that doesn’t hit the nail on the head, we don’t know what else will.
2. Don’t invite everybody!
A large part of the complaints about bad meetings is that a lot of people don’t see the reason why they were invited in the first place. And oftentimes, meeting facilitators just basically mass-invite everyone, not realizing the negative effects of such a practice. It’s important to consider the participants of a meeting not just because unrelated participants’ time is wasted, but when people can’t contribute to the discussion, the meeting loses value. On the other hand, when the right people are invited, brighter ideas are generated and better decision are made. So always consider the value of the meeting to each participant you want to be part of the session.
3. Be respectful of everyone else’s time (and yours too!)
Time is a finite and priceless resource at any business. So that means it’s better for the organization and everyone in it as a whole, and in the long term, if everyone was respectful of other people’s time. This applies especially at meetings. Executives especially, have a tendency to come in later than the appointed time for a meeting. Naturally, others would usually wait for that executive to be available before beginning the meeting. Again, wasted time in meetings mean lost productivity. Plus, it communicates a negative message to participants. The burden is strongest on managers and officers to create a culture of timeliness and respect for time — once that kind of positive culture takes root and becomes the norm of the organization, then good and great things can be accomplished.
4. Finish things off with a plan or call to action
The best way for meetings to end is to call for participants to DO something; to accomplish something. This way, meetings won’t be just lip service — regardless of how clear the agenda is or how on-time everything started and ended, if it’s not acted on, then all would have been in vain. Effective meetings should translate into concrete initiatives that benefit the organization.
5. Utilize the right devices and instruments
Tools like what Runrun.it provides can be very useful in creating effective meetings. For example, users have the ability to create a multi-allocated task to record the time of a meeting, as well as generate all sorts of datasets and reports that can be used in the meeting itself. There are also tools that allow for better exchange of information and feedback for different tasks, that can lead to the ability to make more informed decisions. Runrun.it has a plethora of different tools and technology to make effective meetings the norm in your organization, and more. To see how it can work for you, check out the free trial here.