Meetings are one of the more peculiar aspects of corporate life. Whilst they’re almost universally loathed, they appear almost ubiquitous in most of our organizations.
Estimates suggest that around 40-50% of an executives time is spent holed up in one meeting or another, which is a whole lot of time in anyones book, but especially for those deemed the most valuable in the organization.
That use of time would be acceptable if meetings weren’t so often a waste of time. As renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”
A number of surveys have reinforced this point, suggesting that up to 40% of our time in meetings is generally wasted.
Back in 2013 I wrote about a MIT study into the effectiveness of meetings, and particularly the way language is used to structure meetings. Did you know, for instance, that beginning a sentence with the word “yeah” signifies that a decision is about to be made?
Feedback is key
A recent study suggests that rather than getting bogged down in linguistics, the key to a successful meeting is installing a proper feedback loop.
“Previous research has told us that managers spend more than half of their working week in meetings and that they describe as much as 50 per cent of these meetings as unproductive. This study examined ways to improve and promote meeting effectiveness in a global corporation,” the researchers say.
Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire on how effective they found meetings in their organization. The meetings were judged on things such as their organization, the attendance at them and the actionable outcomes of them.
Some of the common problems emerging from the study included age old issues such as punctuality and poor attendance. These were then explored in more detail via in depth interviews with participants, before some best practice guidelines were produced.
As with other aspects of change, the study found that when you involve participants in crafting the improvements in meetings, it generally led to greater satisfaction with those meetings.
“Meetings have almost become a solution to all problems, but at the same time, they themselves can lead to wasted time and decreased productivity. Having good meeting guidelines and appropriate resources is an essential step towards effective meeting practice.
“However, without an effective way of implementing them into the day-to-day functioning of a busy working environment, they may not be sufficient in creating an effective meeting culture,” the researchers say.
Of course, whilst this might make meetings slightly more palatable to participants, it doesn’t really answer the question of whether they’re needed in the first place.