Millions of productive hours are lost and billions of dollars are wasted in the conference rooms across the world.
As the British are fond of saying, meetings are often a bloody waste of time. Worse, they often produce flawed decisions and solutions that never solve the problem. Poor meeting leadership results in three common problems.
"Time is money." — Common Saying.
Poorly run meetings are endemic in government and corporations. It's truly amazing how corporations will focus complete and absolute attention an lowering income statement expenses, but turn a blind eye to the thousands of man years lost in poorly lead and poorly run meetings.
One can always get more money, but you never get more time. Every meeting, not matter how well run will have a 5 to 10 percent loss factor. The meeting gets started late, the group strays off topic, one person takes 5 minutes to explain something that could have been done in 30 seconds, etc.
However, most meetings have high loss factors—often 50 percent or higher. In fact, a 1993 study by the Wharton Center for Applied Research found that middle managers spent 11 hours a week in meetings of which they felt only 56% of them were productive. Besides, time loses, there are also other costs such as the impact on morale.
Since losses from ineffective meetings don't appear on the financials, organizations tolerate a needless drag on productivity; one that causes no end of frustration to an already overworked managers and executives.
The Same Problems Keep Coming Back
"We never have time to do it right, but we always have time to do it over." — Paul Zielie
Besides time loss, it's typically the case that in poorly run meetings, the group often doesn't adapt the best idea. Plus the person conducting an ineffective meeting generates a fair number of passive-aggressive individuals who have no intention of supporting or acting on what was discussed.
One would think, that people would learn from experience, that a mistake made once, will not occur again. Unfortunately, meetings often fail to resolve problems. And so they keep coming back again, and again, and again.
Bad Decisions Get Made
Executives are typically prisoners of what what they are told by underlings—subordinates who often present biased information. Plus bad leadership allows phenomenon such as GroupThink and the Risky Shift to produce terribly flawed decisions.
Common Meeting Problems
Firing on All Cylinders
Even good meetings can get better.
Phase 1. Assessment (Pretest)
During this phase, we figure out where the low hanging fruit are on problem tree. We figure out the nature of the problems and formulate a plan of action by:
Having participants fill out an assessment,
Going through an interview process, and
Debriefing and building a consensus with the stakeholders.
Phase 2. Training and Development
While an assessment increases awareness and builds the need for change, it does little to actually change meeting behavior. Learning how to conduct effective meetings requires training, facilitation and coaching. And of course, it requires practice with feedback.
Phase 3. Lessons Learned (Post-Test)
It's important to assess what improved and what remains to be done. Developing effective meeting behaviors are like changing a bad habit—it takes a while, missteps are likely, and set backs are inevitable. That's why it is important to run assessments to determine what improved and what has not.
Firing on All Cylinders
"The Law of Triviality ... means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to its importance." — C Northcote Parkinson
Firing on All Cylinders
Training & Development
"There are two ways of meeting difficulties: You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself to meet them." — Phyllis Bottome
New learning is important to conducting effective meetings. We have an extensive set of curriculum that provides the kind of knowledge necessary to prevent misfires during meetings. Typically, we focus on four ineffective and inefficient meeting processes.
Four Key Meeting Processes Critical to Effectiveness
Fine-Tuning The Meeting Process
An effective meeting cycles through three phases: a beginning, middle and end. Commonly, the person running the meeting botches both the beginning and the end. And what occurs in the middle could function as a cure for insomnia. Sad to say, most managers cannot manage their own meetings.
Improving The Problem Solving Process
You have probably heard this lie. It goes, “Managers are decision markers.” The truth is, “Executives are decision makers, managers are problem solvers.” While I learned many things in my MBA program, one glaring omission was how to solve complex operational problems. Evidently, most business majors were also robbed of this critical knowledge. For how else would explain managers addiction to “band-aid management?”
The term is a metaphor for a fixing the problem by not fixing the problem. The problem is contained rather than permanently fixed, it reoccurs later. It's similar to bleeding from a cut. Rather than suturing the cut, a band-aid gets slapped on it. This causes the bleeding to stop for awhile. Eventually, the band-aid falls off the bleeding starts again. Many organizations suffer from financial death by thousands of cuts.
Playing Better Meeting Communication Roles
This is the most subtle, the most difficult, the one requiring the most skill. It is subtle because many of the communication issues bedeviling groups are neither noticed nor discussed. For example, Chairs generally ignore a long list of bad role behavior such as blocking, bitching or interrupting. Even personality characteristics such as introversion or extroversion greatly impact meeting efficiency. The person who talks unceasingly but adds nothing, is as must a problem as the silent person who contributes nothing while occupying the chair consuming oxygen and coffee.
Effective Meeting Leadership Leadership
Another key element impacting meeting effectiveness is leadership style. Unfortunately, many leaders are stuck, playing the same role whether it works or not. Effective Chairs change their style depending on what’s occurring during the meeting; i.e. they can alternate between being an autocratic and a facilitative leader.
Everyone complains about the boss—but never to his face. Employees surround their executives in a fog of compliments, biased information, and flattery preventing them from really seeing what going on.
Executives in the Bubble—The Importance of Getting Feedback
Executives face a unique problem, one not faced by managers or supervisors—they typically don't receive negative feedback and constructive criticism from those lower in the dominance hierarchy.
Sure, some of the underlings are likely to disagree with you on occasion, but they rarely provide the negative feedback so necessary to improve meeting effectiveness. And if asked, they default to meaningless euphemisms, platitudes and abstract language guaranteed to confuse even the shrewdest government bureaucrat.
That's why it's important to have an outsider who can perform this function. In this case, the focus is on meetings effectiveness and what can be done to make them run better. For example, we typically sit in on meetings and provide feedback on what occurred.
Time is too important to not be used wisely. We should all remember the words of William Shakespeare, "I wasted time, now time doth waste me."