Mark Craemer No Comments

Those in leadership positions spend more time attending and leading meetings than perhaps any other activity throughout the workday. But how effective are these meetings?

More than 55 million meetings are held in organizations every day in the United States. The annual cost of these meetings (based on the average salaries of attendees) is $1.4 trillion! That’s a serious amount of money and it’s worth questioning to what degree meetings are a good investment.

“Too many meetings,” was the number one timewaster in the office and cited by 47 percent of 3,164 workers in a study conducted by Salary.com focused on workplace time drains. Microsoft surveyed nearly 40,000 people about productivity and work-related practices, and found that 69 percent of workers globally and 71 percent of workers in the US indicated that meetings were not productive.

Are meetings necessary? Absolutely. According to Steven Rogelberg in his book The Surprising Science of Meetings, “I would hazard to say that there is no single investment that organizations treat so carelessly, with so little evaluation or drive to improve, than meetings.”

Rogelberg says the benefits of meetings include:

  • Allow attendees to interpersonally connect with one another, which serves to build relationships, networks and support.
  • An ideal venue to bring together ideas, thoughts and opinions—things that should help each person perform his or her job in a better, more coordinated and cooperative manner.
  • Enable leaders and employees alike to create a shared understanding that promotes efficiency and teamwork.
  • Build commitment to goals, initiatives and broader aspirations that may not be explicitly stated in any individual job description, and that employees can see that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Bring individuals together as a coherent whole, which can then be more adaptive, resilient and self-directing.

Leading effective meetings is clearly important, but how? Many things can be done such as reducing the standard length of meetings from 60 minutes to 50 minutes, something Google and PricewaterhouseCooper implemented so attendees have time between back-to-back meetings. Keep the number of attendees to eight or fewer, especially when trying to solve a problem or make a decision. Remove the chairs and have a stand-up meeting to keep it short, or have a walking meeting when there are few participants to stimulate idea generation.

Brainwriting is a technique to use silence as a way to generate and prioritize ideas beyond the loudest voices in the room. Silent Reading is common practice at Amazon where a detailed six-page document is provided and read by all attendees at the beginning of the meeting, which can then lead to a deeper discussion than presentations provide.

Meetings should be effective, yet there are no clear guidelines most organizations provide and follow. With that, I submit Rogelberg’s “Good Meeting Facilitation Checklist” in his book. This includes:

  • Time Management
    • Keep track of time and pace of meeting
    • Acknowledge emergent issues that warrants discussion or new meeting
    • Keep conversation moving forward
  • Active Listening
    • Model active listening and asking good questions
    • Clarify and summarize where things are and people’s input
    • Listen for underlying concerns and bring them forward
    • Ensure note-taker issues, actions and takeaways are recorded
  • Conflict Management
    • Encourage conflict around ideas and manage so that it benefits decision-making
    • Invite debate so that people feel comfortable respectfully disagreeing
    • Deal with disrespectful behavior quickly through re-direction and reminding attendees of ground rules
  • Ensuring Active Participation
    • Actively draw out input from those who are not contributing
    • Keep any attendee from dominating the conversation
    • Keep side conversations at bay
  • Pushing for Consensus
    • Test for agreement and consensus to get a sense of where attendees stand
    • Be willing to take the pulse of attendees to ensure process is working
    • Know when to intervene assertively and when to let the process run as it is
    • Be an honest broker of the conversation at hand, and work to remain impartial

Putting to use the above checklist when facilitating can result in your meetings being much more effective. Don’t let your attendees see your meetings as a waste of time. Instead, lead effective meetings that reflect well on you and achieve the results you’re looking for.

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