Eight Steps to More Effective Meetings
nothing quite like the announcement of another meeting to evoke
in employees a distinct feeling of dread. With most employees'
time stretched thin with an already heavy workload, meetings can
be seen as pointless time-wasters. Unfortunately, this is
because many of them are. "The main thing people hate about
meetings is that they are poorly run or don't accomplish
anything," says Glen Parker, team building consultant and author
Excellence: 33 Tools to Lead Meetings that Get Results.
with a strong desire to accomplish work goals are especially
negatively affected by meetings, according to Steven G.
Rogelberg, professor of organizational and science psychology at
University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He was lead researcher
on a 2005 study of 908 employees on meetings published in the
Journal of Applied Psychology.
For those driven employees who are focused on completing tasks
and achieving goals, meetings are an annoying interruption to
their work and productivity; job satisfaction decreases as the
number of meetings they attend increases. The study did find,
however, that employees who are low in accomplishment striving
have a more flexible orientation to work and actually liked
meetings, presumably because meetings are seen as a welcome
interruption, something that adds a chance to be social.
Science and Fiction of Meetings," Rogelberg (along
with Cliff Scott, professor at the University at North Carolina,
Charlotte, and John Kello, professor at Davidson College) writes
that ineffective meetings are especially harmful to
different studies support the idea that the level of meeting
effectiveness is the single most powerful factor in job
satisfaction; the more time spent in bad meetings the greater
the job dissatisfaction, and the more likely employees are to
leave the company.
Unfortunately, ineffective meetings are the norm. All too often,
employees walk away from a meeting thinking, "That was not a
good use of my time, we just sort of talked a lot, and there was
no clear purpose or outcome," says Parker, who leads
effective-meetings training for various corporations. He points
out that even when there is a clear purpose, meetings can easily
move off topic or can be hijacked by someone only interested in
seeming smart or pushing his agenda.
supports his assessment. A 2005
Microsoft survey of
38,000 people worldwide found that the average worker feels
productive only three days a week. What scored as one of the top
three time-wasters? Ineffective meetings. (Unclear objectives
and lack of team communication were also in the top three, which
suggests the common use of meetings as a communication tool is
ill-founded.) According to the survey, people spend 5.6 hours
each week in meetings, yet 69 percent of them feel that meetings
aren't productive. Looking strictly at the United States, the
number of employees who feel meetings aren't productive climbs
to 71 percent.
So how do
you make sure you're not killing morale or job satisfaction with
your meetings? You might consider hiring a specialist to educate
meeting leaders on techniques for becoming more effective. More
immediately, here are eight ways to help you become a more
effective meeting leader.
only necessary meetings.
it at its most basic: When employees are in meetings, they
are not producing work. The salary each person is being paid
to be at a meeting and the amount of work that's
collectively lost in the same amount of time should be
considered against that meeting's importance. The purpose of
a meeting is to make a decision, for example solving a
problem, answering a query or selecting a vendor, says
Parker. In other words, there's an outcome that requires the
input of the players and those should be the only people at
the meeting. "There might be a legitimate issue, but it only
concerns X people; the rest [if required to attend will be]
annoyed and feel they have more productive things to do."
Eva Budz, who attended Parker's training and is a senior
clinical oncology research scientist at Novartis, says one
good rule of thumb she uses to determine that it's time for
a meeting is "when we start seeing frequent correspondence
on an issue and cluttered inboxes." At that point, "we just
hold a meeting to get to the heart of the problem."
Eliminate status meetings or reduce their frequency.
lot of meetings are just status updates, progress reports,
announcements of new systems and so on, says Parker. "So
each person gives their little update, and that in many
cases is not a good reason to meet." The information
conveyed in most meetings of the status/update variety could
be communicated in other ways, for example electronically.
To those who consider meetings to be a time of team bonding,
Parker says, "If you want to have teambuilding have
teambuilding, but let's call it that." If there's a lack of
bonding there's a better way of addressing it, he says.
Still, some companies may find it difficult to let go of
status meetings altogether.
Such is the case at Novartis. As a clinical trial leader,
Budz holds monthly update meetings during which participants
from drug supply, regulatory and marketing divisions report
on their specific part of the trial. She says the monthly
update meeting is crucial and informative, since each group
can hear and discuss what the others are doing.
If you must have status meetings, do keep in mind the
overall amount of corporate meetings that employees attend
and try to balance the amount with that in mind. At the very
least, consider allowing them to be optional. For example,
Budz says that since some participants, such as data
management staff, have roles on multiple trials, about 30
percent of relevant players do not attend the status meeting
any given month, but are updated with meeting minutes later.
a clear purpose for your meeting and a structure for
conducting it is crucial, says Parker. You should identify
the key meeting outcome you are hoping to get, or the one
thing you need to get done to be able say, "Yes, that was a
successful meeting." Include the objective on the agenda, so
that everyone is aligned as to the meeting's purpose. Days
before the meeting, solicit agenda items from meeting
participants and compile them with your own. Be sure to send
the agenda to all participants before the meeting.
for how you want to run the meeting, not just what you want
big believer in preparation," says Parker. If you're the
meeting leader you need to sit down and think about what
might happen at this meeting. "I'll give thought in advance
to 'what if?'" What if a key member of the team doesn't show
up? The technology doesn't work? An audience member is bored
agenda and objectives at the beginning of the meeting.
keeping a meeting on track is summarizing what you will
cover and what you hope to accomplish during the meeting.
For example, "We're here today to review our vendor options
and by the time this meeting is finished we should have
narrowed our choices down to three." Budz notes that
streamlining meetings by using agendas (especially those
including agenda items from everyone) and verbalizing the
meeting objective at the outset has made a tremendous impact
on meeting productivity.
Encourage participation with active
Without an atmosphere of respect, you cannot hope for full
participation; many people will simply not speak up in an
atmosphere where it doesn't feel welcome. For starters, be
respectful of people even if you disagree with their
opinion. How you respond when people make a contribution can
reinforce—or negate—your words. Show that you are open to
different points of view by earnestly asking for
clarification. And discourage inappropriate behavior from
others. For example, cut off those who interrupt: "I
understand you disagree but let's let Shawna finish her
thought before we discuss it." Encourage others with
pertinent questions, such as, "Mark thinks we don't have
enough data to make a decision yet. How do the rest of you
feel about it?" Call on those with particular subject
expertise, "Erica, I know you have experience with these
kinds of projects, what do you think about this?"
recap at the end of the meeting.
time limit has been reached, close the meeting. Summarize
the accomplishments, decisions and next steps. Parker says
that this recap my seem like it takes unnecessary time, but
it emphasizes just the opposite is true: "You don't want
people going out with a different understanding of what's
been decided, and those five minutes at the end are crucial
in that sense." Budz agrees, "You discuss so much during a
meeting and can go off on tangents. Tying it all together at
the end was one of the best things I learned."
meeting minutes in a reasonable time.
Ideally you should send out draft meeting minutes and ask
for input. Final versions should be sent once input has been
incorporated. For both, set a timeframe that makes sense for
the complexity of what was discussed and decided at the
meeting. That said, sooner rather than later is a good maxim
meetings better should be a top priority for organizations. With
their powerful effect on employee satisfaction, not to mention
their cost, streamlining and improving meetings deserves your
© 2007 CXO