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Unproductive? If your meetings are a joke, it’s time to change the punchline

By Adriana GirdlerCartoon

Jokes like the one above can be hurtful to the meeting and event planners who make putting on events their life’s work.

The planners I know go to great lengths to ensure their meetings are productive, valuable experiences that result in creative outcomes and lead to action with impact.

In fact, for many, meetings are a great collaboration tool that when structured and facilitated effectively, bring people together to resolve issues, enable brainstorming, develop new ideas and support the achievement of business goals and objectives.

A Verizon-commissioned study Meetings in America V, found 92 per cent of meeting attendees value meetings as providing an opportunity to contribute, suggesting that successful meetings may be a contributing factor to employee job satisfaction.

So, why are meetings so often the punchline of jokes?

Large, out-of-the-office meeting events rarely fall into this category. Rather, these type of problematic meetings surface during the in-house meetings people attend within the context of their jobs.

These day-to-day office meetings are often frustrating simply because, despite all of their intended virtues, it is not uncommon for people to spend whole days attending back-to-back, unproductive meetings that prevent them from getting to their actual work.

In fact, a survey conducted in 2011 by CornerStone Dynamics (CSD) found that 42 per cent of Canadian respondents felt that the meetings they attended where unproductive. That’s a pretty large group of unproductive people! In 2005, the U.S. Bureau of Labor conducted a study and determined that unproductive meetings cost U.S. businesses approximately 37 billion dollars per year!

We probably can’t relate to big numbers like this, so let’s take a second to evaluate what unproductive meetings might cost a company. Let’s assume that, on average, a busy employee has two meetings a day or roughly 40 meetings a month. Out of these 40 meetings, let’s say 17 (as found by CSD) are not productive, the meeting length is one hour; each employee is paid $75/hour.

If we assume that an average of six employees attend each meeting, we get a cost of $450/meeting. Multiply this by 17 and we have a total cost of $7,650/month or $91,800 per year.

Despite the downside, office meetings are not going away, and, quite honestly, they shouldn’t. What the jokes, the statistics and the frustration of having to work outside of working hours because of back-to-back meetings all suggest is that there is a tremendous opportunity to teach the average employee how to conduct meetings more effectively.

Instead of being a punchline, meetings can become a game-changing experience for organizations.

Symptoms of an unproductive meeting

WinterCoverImageWhen meetings are not being run effectively you may either witness or personally experience some of the following symptoms:

• Missed parts of a meeting by arriving late or leaving early;
• Did other work while in the meeting;
• Had other conversations during the meeting
(email, text or with the person sitting next to you);
• Day dreamed during meeting; and/or
• Dozed.

What do any or all of these symptoms indicate? Attendees just do not see how the meeting content is relevant to them.

Meetings that are focused on updating and task reporting are a great example of this and are a sure-fire way to disengage and frustrate your attendees. There is a passive quality to sitting through a checklist rundown on what everyone else is doing that is quite simply, unstimulating! Therefore it is critically important to first ensure that everyone understands that every meeting they schedule must create value for attendees.

Game-changing meeting activities

First, a productive meeting has purpose. Everyone is gathered to get something done. This means no updates or status reports. Second, productive meetings are well prepared and structured. They have agendas, they use facilitation techniques to keep the conversation moving and always have a clear objective and deliverable. While this sounds logical and simple, the fact is many people don’t know how to run a productive meeting.

Technology alone won’t get us there! There is a belief that technology will resolve our meeting issues. Verizon’s study further shares that some 89 per cent of respondents believe that technology will make meetings easier in the future.

In one way this belief is correct. Technology can help to reduce the need for the status-update/task-list meetings that really add no value.

However, technology is only a tool and, while it can assist organizations in reaching goals, it must be used effectively for this to happen. For example, if you wanted to get into shape, a piece of equipment or gym membership alone will not get you to your goal. Instead, it will be the energy and effort you put into working out at the gym or on the equipment that determines your success. In essence, it’s really all about how you use the tools.

The same is true for meeting technology. If we implement these new technological productivity tools without becoming aware of and changing our unproductive meeting habits, then we will continue to have unproductive meetings.

So, if meeting technology alone won’t help us, what will?

From punchline to game changer

Step 1: Mandatory Meeting Training

If we want to improve meeting productivity it is critical to change our meeting behaviour which requires employee education and training. Most employees assume that running a meeting is a simple process. Yet those in the meeting planning industry know that to create apparent simplicity and flow requires planning and preparation. Knowing this, and knowing that meetings are the most common, go-to tool for ensuring that companies reach their business goals, it’s shocking to find that employee training on how to handle meetings to ensure productive outcomes is so rare.

The focus of meeting training should be on facilitation skills and meeting preparation for those who run meetings and also on how to be a productive meeting participant. A well-run meeting will result in great meeting outcomes. A good meeting facilitator is prepared with agendas, data for the meeting and meeting deliverables, to name a few. They are also neutral and understand the importance of participation.

There are some great facilitators out there, but the “game-changing” meeting requires that every participant also be great and meet a certain standard in their approach to the meeting. Training and practice is the only thing that will ensure this happens. They need to be trained on good meeting etiquette and how to properly participate and challenge ideas.

Being a good participant means giving your full attention to the meeting agenda and facilitator. It means not interrupting with non-agenda related items that derail the meeting objective. If an issue is identified, engaged participants also present potential solutions. Constantly being a nay-sayer in a meeting drains the productivity and is counter-productive to the goal of resolving problems and moving project momentum forward.

Overall, productive meeting behaviour is a two-way street. Everyone’s participation is critical for success. And, as with any new change initiative, introducing training to evolve an organization’s meeting behaviour will require the support and commitment of the organization’s senior leadership.

Step 2: Shift Updates and Status Meetings to Technology Tools

We live in a technology-rich society, so why not use these efficient tools for corporate updates and status reporting. For example, you could use video and/or audio updates. Most people have access to a video camera or smartphone recording app. Ensure that you have a common location to house all of your video downloads, and set rules around the length of updates, which ideally should not be more than three minutes. This will ensure reasonable file-sizes, force everyone to be succinct in their updates and demonstrate respect for each other’s time constraints.

For status updates, you need a great task tracker that allows for comments. For example, use the comment section to provide an update on the status of your activity, to ask for a due date, an extension or to provide additional detail to the actual task. Empower the team to update the tracker in the comment section with their updates. The manager or team leader for this tracker can then review it and speak to individuals separately if additional information or clarity is required, instead of doing it in a meeting.

Humour me for one last moment!

In-house meetings are truly a system of collaborating that enrich participant’s experiences and add value to our organizations. However, the likelihood of them going wrong is high, as are the costs associated with the lost productivity from mismanaged meetings.

If the office meetings you frequent are the brunt of productivity jokes, then it’s time to introduce some meeting productivity training and technology tools to ensure that your meetings inspire game-changing insights and transformational outcomes.

 

Adriana GirdlerAdriana Girdler is the president of CornerStone Dynamics Inc. and an expert in business efficiency, helping leading corporations streamline internal processes to work smarter and improve productivity. www.cornerstonedynamics.com

Speaking of IMPACT Winter issue 2015

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