No institution of office culture is as polarising or unpredictable as the meeting.
Meetings are important points of decision making, brainstorming, and communication, but if they aren’t managed properly, they can be counterproductive.
They’re especially vulnerable to productivity loss because they frequently require multiple parties to be present; an hour of wasted time for one person only costs the company an hour, but an hour or wasted time for a room full of a dozen people is 12 hours—more than a quarter of a work week of productivity.
So how can meetings be counterproductive, and what are you missing to maximize your meetings’ productivity?
How Meetings Become Unproductive
These are just some of the ways meetings often kill productivity:
- Failing to accomplish a goal. Meetings can have several different goals, but if none of those goals are met, the meeting can’t be considered a success. This is also true if the meeting accomplishes a goal redundantly, if the goal was already met through other processes.
- Running too long. Just because the meeting meets a goal doesn’t mean it can be considered productive. The meeting could also run too long, costing far more time than the goal was originally worth.
- Ending with a poor decision. A meeting can also be a waste of time if the discussion leads to a poor decision, or results in an end product that isn’t worth the time that was put into it.
What Your Meetings Are Missing
If you feel your meetings are often succumbing to one of the counterproductive paths referenced above, it could be because you’re missing one of these important things:
Too often, managers try to host meetings before they fully understand or appreciate what the meeting is about. This might be because the meeting was called in haste (such as a reaction to a given event), or because it’s a standing meeting that’s not worth reconsidering (such as a weekly progress report).
To address this, you’ll need to spend some time evaluating the necessity and potential of every meeting you consider calling. Why are you hosting this meeting? What will people need to do to come prepared? How can you make sure you start the meeting with all the right resources?
2. The right attendees
Next, your meeting needs to have the right people—and the right number of people. It’s tempting to include anyone who seems relevant to a given subject, but it’s better to narrow your range of candidates to only those who can actively make a positive impact in the meeting. Any person included who shouldn’t be there will end up wasting their time.
Conversely, if you don’t have enough people educated on the subject participating in the discussion, you might not come to the right decision. Invest some time before the meeting deciding who should attend and who should stay out.
Don’t underestimate the role that diversity plays in the fluidity and ultimate value of your meetings. Your meetings should have a diverse range of people present, assuming they’re all equally invested in the subject and are prepared to talk about it.
The frequent inclusion of people from different backgrounds allows you to cultivate an atmosphere of cultural competence, where your employees can appreciate and incorporate multiple distinct perspectives in their decision-making and everyday work.
Ultimately, that diversity will allow you to make better, more creative, and more impactful decisions.
4. Time management
Next, you’ll need to carefully manage how you spend your time within the meeting. Too many meetings are scheduled with the philosophy that the time it takes is the time it takes, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. You can start correcting this by scheduling a finite amount of time for the meeting, usually 30 minutes or less.
This forces you and your team to work with the intent to find a solution, rather than meandering through conversation to find one. Make sure you also have a meeting leader prepared to keep the team in line.
5. Value optimization
Finally, spend some time thinking about the value of your meetings as a factor to optimize, the same way you would the profitability of a project or the efficiency of your workforce. Too many people view meetings as a kind of time expense, unavoidable and unchangeable, but the reality is, they can be tweaked and optimized, like everything else in your business.
Not every meeting has the potential to be productive, and even the ones that do can still be ruined by mismanagement. Before you schedule any meeting, think critically about what you’re trying to accomplish, who can accomplish it, and how they can accomplish it best. With the right decision-makers controlling how meetings are organized and executed, your organization’s efficiency could skyrocket.
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