Ineffective meetings are the bane of most organisations. They create frustration and stress, they waste people’s time, and they undermine potential.
But what causes meetings to be ineffective?
A large factor is clearly the way that meetings are designed and led, but that only represents one-third of the issue. A far bigger factor is the behaviour of people before, during, and after the meeting. Participant behaviours (and non-behaviour) are the cause of two thirds of meeting inefficiency.
In a recent analysis of meeting effectiveness across a range of organisations, over 60% of the damage to meeting productivity arose from the participant behaviour: lateness; non-attendance; lack of preparation; lack of follow-up; inattention; politics; inter-personal issues; …
The answer is simply because they were rewarded for these behaviours. The reality is that meeting ineffectiveness persists because our organisation cultures encourage it.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying that people actively set out to make their meetings ineffective. It is just that some of the choices they make (because it makes their own lives easier) have negative consequences on the meeting itself, and while these may be relatively small impacts individually, they collectively build into a big problem (see the chart above right).
So how do we fix this?
Awareness is part of the solution. Many people would be horrified to understand the real consequences of their choices on meetings – they tend to have an optimistic perspective that their minor failings and indulgences will not matter in the grand scheme of things.
But a bigger part of the solution is in respect of the culture you promote in your meetings. If the time and effectiveness stealers are tolerated, because everyone does it, so it must be okay (and I only do it occasionally – I think), then people will not realise their own part in the meetings that frustrate themselves and their colleagues.
So how might you effect such a solution in practice? The following steps may help:
- Use the diagram to explore with your meeting how small indulgences can build on each other and have a big overall impact. Share the article on effectiveness culture.
- Take a look at past meetings and see how much them arose in order to chase up on progress, or to cover things that could have been read beforehand (if we could all be trusted to do the pre-reading)
- Work with the meeting to develop and agree a set of groundrules that people will endeavour to adhere to in ensuring meeting effectiveness
- Find ways to provide honest feedback to people that they can use to be more objective about their role in meeting effectiveness