Redeeming the Business Meeting
Are you a manager? What does your Outlook calendar look like? Take any given month or two, add up the hours you’re in meetings and divide that number by your total hours worked (or expected to work) for that timeframe. Then multiply by 100. Whatcha got? According to firms from the US to Australia, chances are you’re at 25% or higher. Now think: how much of that time would you call productive? Be honest. Is it about half? Yeah? Well, you’re not alone. According to corporate meeting and event specialists, Bradley Bowersett, you’re in the norm. And what does unproductive business meeting after unproductive business meeting cost? According to the firm’s figures, roughly $623,000 USD every year – and that’s for a small company. According to Australian enterprise software developer, Atlassian, that amounts to a wasted $37 billion USD in salary in the United States alone. And what does the average business meeting attendee do during a business meeting? According to a network MCI whitepaper entitled Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity, 91% say they daydream, 73% admit to doing other work, and a whopping 39% even admit to falling asleep.
But what makes for an unproductive business meeting, exactly? And if so many of them are so unproductive, what can you do to ensure your next business meeting isn’t fraught with clacking keyboards, resounding snores, and flying unicorns?
Formula for a bad business meeting
You’ve probably already thought of half a dozen reasons why any given business meeting can devolve into a time and money waster, but here they are anyway:
- No clear purpose or agenda
- Lack of preparation (sometimes on behalf of the leader, sometimes on behalf of several attendees)
- It starts too late and/or runs too long
- Discussions veer away onto lengthy tangents
- Some of the people who should be there aren’t
- No one ever follows up with a recap or to-do list after it’s finally over.
Terrible, isn’t it? But let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone; most of us have been guilty of at least one of these transgressions at some point or another. If we weren’t, the stats above wouldn’t be nearly as large – or underwhelming. Ultimately, however, the business meeting is far from something to do away with; rather, it’s something that needs to be saved.
Reclaiming the meaning of a business meeting
For a plan to come together, the team has to too – and not just to update each other on their individual progress. A business meeting, when conducted properly, should be about innovation and cooperation, not just information. Such interaction quickens the entrepreneurial spirit, strengthens bonds, and bolsters morale for peak productivity. If you want every business meeting to reach its full potential, stick to these rules:
Don’t hold so many
If you stick to the rules listed below, you’ll find you don’t need nearly as meetings as you think.
Remember: it’s about collaboration, not dissemination
If you just want to tell everyone something, it’s probably more email-worthy than meeting-worthy.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
This one begs repeating not because it’s hard to do, but because too many people fail to do it – and that includes the attendees as well as the leader. If you’re an attendee, remember to bring whatever is asked of you, even if it’s just your attention; if you’re the leader, prepare an agenda and email it to all involved well ahead of time, even a day or two, clearly defining what attendees should do to prepare.
Start and end on time
You know that agenda? Stick to it. Everyone at the meeting has other things they need to do. They didn’t just drift in; they’re there because you asked them to be. That’s shows respect. Remember to return the favour.
Stay on track
Occasional detours are okay because they’re like little timeouts; a psychological breather. These tangents are even better if they’re actually related to the main topic. But all too often people simply go off the rails. If that happens during a meeting you’re leading, there are couple of ways you can easily get everyone back on track: diplomatically interject and say that, while the tangential topic is worth discussing, the topic at hand is the priority; remind everyone of how much time is left. (This will also reinforce #4 above.)
Sum up and follow up
At the very end of the meeting – and this should be on the agenda – recount the salient points brought up during the meeting and establish a clear to-do list for everyone. Then, send a follow-up email to all attendees (and anyone who should have been there) reiterating everything you said at the end of the meeting. Repetition breeds familiarity, after all, and an email ensures that everyone will have a document to refer back to in case they forget anything.