Meetings are an integral part of our day at work, irrespective of whether we are working for a startup or for a large corporate house. Think how many times you would have sat through a long meeting and thought – “what a waste of time, I could have used this time to finish so many important tasks.” Meetings at the office are so productive and efficient, said no employee ever.
Sadly, meetings tend to disrupt one’s schedule and result in the individual being unproductive. This is because these meetings can last the whole day, leaving one with the option of starting their actual work day only in the evening. To make it worse, this can be regular phenomena and not a one-off ‘meeting day’. The issue is also with the many short meetings, planned in parts, spread across majority of the work day. The constant start/stop during the day is equally unproductive. Every other hour you’ll need a few minutes to get to and from each meeting, including packing up your laptop, grabbing your phone, or refilling coffee. This ensures that one can only do simple tasks between meetings as he/she won’t have a chance to invest time on a task that takes longer. When one starts falling behind the planned tasks due to marathon meetings, the only option is to turn up early or sit till late or spend time working over the weekend, in order to finish the tasks. This results in a 60 hours work week, instead of a planned 40 hours, making a huge dent on productivity of the organisation.
There are numerous reports that prove that meetings are not the best option when it comes to creating a productive team. As per a research report by Harvard Business Review, more than 70 percent of the 182 senior managers surveyed agreed that meetings are unproductive and inefficient. Respondents highlighted that meetings keep them away from completing their own work (65 percent), come at the expense of deep work (the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task) and investment of time to do their job better (64 percent), and missed opportunities to bring the team closer together (62 percent).
CEOs spend the equivalent of two work days each week in meetings, according to a study by Bain & Company. At one organisation, Bain found that attendees spent 7,000 hours a year in the weekly senior leadership meeting, and subordinates spent 300,000 hours in related meetings and prep time!
Meetings cannot be done away with, as they come with their set of advantages like better planning, better collaboration in case of big projects, and better rapport building in case of dispersed team. However, it is important to ensure that meetings solve the purpose and do not result in unproductivity.
As we enter 2020, it is advisable that we fix this issue and ensure that we set the ground rules well to ensure that all the meetings are productive:
Keep them short
Long meetings imply longer discussions and unnecessary conversations, without result. If the meetings are kept shorter, the agenda stays as the focus. It is recommended that the meetings should be timed at 10-15 minutes. The reason is very logical. Research has proved that the attention span of any individual declines if the meetings are longer.
Plan for meetings only when needed
Sometimes people tend to get in the habit of calling for a meeting, for the smallest of tasks. It is suggested that one should explore options like sending an email or making a call. It is advisable to meet when things need to get done, decisions made and action points finalised.
Organise stand up meetings
Stand up meetings is the new buzzword, both in case of startups and large corporates. There are specific stand up meeting zones created to encourage employees to do stand-up meetings. The advantage of such meetings is that attendees feel less at ease and want to get things done more quickly
Try out a walking meeting
This one is pretty interesting. I have worked with a couple of CEOs who actually followed this practice of doing walking meetings. The advantages are manifold. Walking meetings help to keep the overall discussion more open and informal. They are also quicker and good for health
Distribute the meeting agenda ahead of time
There are so many times when we are a part of meetings where the attendees are not prepared well. It works well to create a concrete agenda and circulate it to the team, well in advance. Also, it helps to set the context for organising the meeting and define expected outcomes. It is advisable that for a 15 minutes meeting, the agenda items should not exceed 5
Start on time
Always start the meetings on time. Also, do not allow those who arrive too late to attend the meeting. Additionally, do not waste time updating the latecomers.
Moderate the meeting well
It is advisable that the organiser/ host manages the meeting well. He/she should ensure that the conversation is around the set agenda. Meeting discussions tend to get stretchy or digress from the actual agenda. It is the organiser’s responsibility to drive the conversation back to the original agenda.
Define clear owners for each of the activities discussed in the meeting. The owners cannot be fuzzy and activities cannot be everyone’s responsibility. Do establish what, who and when.
Clear minutes of the meeting
It is important to recap the meeting with clear actionable minutes and owners. This will ensure all attendees chase their deadlines and work well together as a team
Meetings are a reflection of how people in an organisation collaborate and get their work done. If done right, meetings can be a great platform to get fresh ideas, encourage the team to think on the same lines and work collaboratively, drive innovation and increase creativity. The only important part is to ensure that meetings are productive. Excessive meetings tend to be draining on employees and waste company time. Whether it is the review meetings, the catch-ups, the brainstorming meetings or any other, the organisations and the managers should work towards ensuring that meetings are not a trap, but a conduit for change.
Gone are the days when meetings meant that the manager/ his team are busy and really making an impact. As we enter 2020, organisations and managers should focus on ensuring meetings are effective and productive. They should make the most of technology to add more effectiveness to meetings.
Here’s hoping that the 20s decade of the 21st century will be able to address all the downsides of meetings.