People are progressively returning to work, holidays a distant memory, mobiles and emails demanding attention again.
As an aside, in my last blog for 2017 I bravely announced I would “unplug” for the holiday season which I did, only checking emails every couple of days and turning a number of devices off completely. My experience supports current research as I have returned much refreshed, feeling like I had a real break.
Now back at work I note my diary beginning to quickly fill with meetings. I’m asking myself questions like “Do I need to be at this meeting?” “Has the required preparation been done?” “Can this meeting be done in less time?”.
It made me wonder if we’re any better at running meetings, let alone participating productively in them. In our work with managers two common themes seem to be a constant; the amount of time spent in meetings and the amount of time invested in non-productive meetings so I went looking to see if there had been any improvement.
An article published by Harvard Business Review in mid-2017 confirms things have gone backwards: “meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s”. In other words that’s three full days each week in meetings.
Further, 182 senior managers surveyed from a range of industries report:
- 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work
- 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
- 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking
- 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together
In spite of these findings we keep going to meetings that perpetuate the same old habits and deliver suboptimal outcomes. The Harvard Business Review article offers a valuable five step process that provides teams a structured approach to analyse and change meeting patterns within your team or business unit.
When it comes to actually running meetings productively, many will have heard or read the following ten points before, they have been around for years. In fact, a number these points are originally drawn from the 1998 edition of Essential Managers Manual, but as the research shows we are still not following these basic principles so it’s worth revisiting them.
- Can the issue be addressed without a meeting?
- If a meeting is required ensure a clear purpose and outcomes are agreed
- Who needs to attend? – keep the meeting as small as possible to minimise distractions. And, does everyone need to be present for the entire meeting?
- Ensure there is a structured agenda that is circulated in advance of the meeting
- Ensure relevant information is circulated in advance of the meeting so people have time to read it and prepare. So much productivity is lost in meetings because meeting time is wasted providing information in the meetings that could have been provided in advance
- Respect others attending the meeting by making sure you are prepared
- Start (and finish) the meeting on time. You are promoting inappropriate behaviour by waiting for those who are running late
- Keep as close as possible to the agenda
- Ensure key action points and decisions are noted and circulated post the meeting
- Evaluate the meeting to capture areas for improvement
Remember, if you are a senior manager you are likely to spend three days out every week this year in meetings. If you want to calculate the cost of these meetings Harvard offer you a free app.
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