We all experience misguided meetings in every aspect of our life, but particularly at work. Those where very little is accomplished, people are running in circles, the extroverts dominate, people “check out” on their smartphone, many people are frustrated and leave more confused than when they started. Sound familiar? For some of you I may have just described all of your meetings at work. And to what effect on our work? On our productivity? According to a recent survey of 3,200 employees by Salary.com for Business, 47 percent of respondents listed having to attend too many meetings as the biggest time waster at work. Surprisingly only 18% listed the internet. The Centre for Economics and Business Research reported that office workers spend an average of four hours per week in meetings. These same workers reported feeling like half of that time is wasted. As an aside, if you want a good laugh, click here to watch "Every Meeting Ever" on Youtube.
To those of us who attend too many meetings, believe it or not in some workplaces we see the opposite situation – they rarely meet. Leaders believe everyone is too busy and since most meetings are bad anyway, they don’t. What’s odd is that we tend to see similar results as the “over-meeting” companies – confusion, loss of productivity, etc. The proliferation of misguided meetings or a lack of meetings in the workplace surely isn’t due to a lack of available resources. There are literally thousands of articles, books, seminars, apps, etc. on why and how to run effective meetings. And most of that advice sounds something like this:
If more meetings were run this way our problems would be solved right? Not according to noted Management guru Pat Lencioni. In his book “Death by Meeting,” Lencioni argues that companies can transform bad meetings into ones that are “productive, focused and even energizing.” However, doing so has nothing to do with the typical advice like we see above. Notes Lencioni, most meeting are bad for two reasons. First they lack drama, which means they are boring, and second they lack context and purpose which means they are a “confusing mix of administrivia, tactics, strategy and review, all of which creates unfocused, meandering and seemingly endless conferences, with little resolution or clarity.” Again, sound familiar?
To create more drama in meetings, Lencioni, taking a lesson from Hollywood, advises leaders to put “the right issues - often the most controversial ones - on the table at the beginning of their meetings. By demanding that their people wrestle with those issues until resolution has been achieved, they can create genuine, compelling drama, and prevent their audiences from checking out,” as they do in most meetings. So conflict in meetings can be a good thing if the leader manages it appropriately.
To create context, leaders must differentiate between different types of meetings. Too often, however, they throw every possible conversation into one long meeting with disastrous results. Verne Harnish, in his book “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits,” argues that fast business growth requires a “rhythm of tightly run daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual huddles and meetings – all of which happen as scheduled, without fail, with specific agendas.” These meetings help you focus on what’s important and solve problems faster.
So there you have it, unconditional meeting advice from two management thought leaders. If it sounds like taking this advice might result in more meetings, I would advise you rethink your role as a leader. As Lencioni notes, “a leader who hates meetings is a lot like a surgeon who hates operating on people, or a symphony conductor who hates concerts. Meetings are what leaders do, and the solution to bad meetings is not the elimination of them, but rather the transformation of them into meaningful, engaging and relevant activities.”
Good advice for all of us. Think about it.