How to create a culture of productive meetings

Having fewer meetings and being selective about the participants can prevent wastage of time and energy

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Jul 19, 2016 09:08:31 AM UTC
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Haven’t we all attended meetings where there was lack of preparation, topics of discussion went on a tangent, no clear outcomes surfaced and by the end, it seemed like a big waste of time. These inefficiencies collectively over a period of time are costing companies a fair amount of time and money. There is even a Ted Talk on how bad meetings are becoming an epidemic by David Grady called, “How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings.”

It is obvious that companies can gain a lot by improving how they conduct their meetings, by having fewer meetings and by being selective about the participants. Effective meetings are good for morale, company culture and the overall performance. Ninety-two percent of meeting attendees value meetings as an opportunity to contribute to the organisation. The number one time waster at the office is "too many meetings, up from No 3 in 2008," according to a survey of 3,200 people by in 2012.

Based on another survey on American companies, $37 billion per year is wasted on unnecessary meetings.

Here are some more statistics:
❏    37 percent of employee time is spent in meetings.
❏    Managers attend more than 60 meetings per month.
❏    39 percent of participants admitted to dozing off during a meeting.
❏    Over 70 percent brought other work to meetings.
❏    It is estimated that 25-50 percent of meeting time is wasted.
❏    The researchers found that the more meetings employees attended, the more exhausted they felt and the higher they perceived their workload to be.

Following are my insights from facilitating Leadership Alignment and/or decision-making workshops to ensure your meetings are productive, whether they last an hour or a few days and regardless of the number of participants.

No Planned Agenda = No Meeting
Most of the work for a successful meeting should happen before the actual meeting. A crisp agenda, including purpose and concrete outcomes for your meeting, significantly increases its chances of being a sure-shot success.

73 percent of the people surveyed consider having a prepared agenda as “very important”.
A thorough agenda allows for clarity in expectations for how the meeting should unfold. It enables the participants to prepare, allocate time judiciously, align everyone present and also helps identify when the discussion has reached completion.

It is generally a good practice to pose agenda items as questions per topic, such as:

Time and Place
❏    How much time will we spend on each topic?
❏    In what order will we address the topics?
❏    When and where will the meeting take place?
❏    Is the room booked?

Often, meetings are called to discuss something without really considering what a good outcome could be.

Questions on expected outcomes can be:
❏    Is this meeting necessary?
❏    What is the top priority in terms of outcome?
❏    Do we want a decision by the end of the meeting?
❏    Are we here to generate ideas?
❏    Is this meeting to communicate information or policy changes?
❏    Are we making plans?
❏    Is this a status update meeting? (Status meetings are becoming more and more obsolete. Google uses something called Snippets which are nothing but a few sentences to update people on the status)

❏    Are the right participants attending?
❏    Are their needs being met by the designed agenda? (The agenda should reflect the needs of all present in the meeting along with the reason why it needs to be there. Very often participants need to coordinate their tasks because the individual parts are co-related.)

Organiser or Facilitator for the Meeting
It helps tremendously if one person takes responsibility for the meeting. This person takes charge of the agenda, ensuring smooth flow during the meeting and staying focussed on the outcomes. One person from the group can take the onus of being the organiser on a rotating basis to maintain fairness.

This is a great opportunity to further develop leadership skills in oneself.

If you want all present to be engaged, the facilitator should ensure that they seek input from the participants well in advance.

It should be the facilitator who decides what is in the best interest of the group. The facilitator can also decide the decision making rules for example by consensus, voting, etc.

One good marker for the preparation time is
Meeting preparation = Meeting Cost
Usually larger meetings require more preparation time and effort. Data, reports, slides, notes or information for a larger meeting must be sent in advance.

During the meeting.
The facilitator needs to keep the following things in mind during the meeting:
❏    State certain ground rules for code of conduct upfront.
❏    Refocus discussion that has wandered off the point always keeping the desired outcome at the back of their mind.
❏    Conclude one point and lead into the next. Don’t leave things hanging.
❏    Clarify any misunderstanding. Paraphrase.
❏    Leave with a clear plan.
❏    Reading and understanding the art of body language of the participants will give signs on how people are responding to the meeting. There are many tricks you can use, for example, gently interrupting auditory people with visual clues.

A Process to Conduct Meetings
As an organisation, you can propose to agree upon a process or model to run meetings. This process will identify the steps through which the team will travel together to complete the discussion or make decisions. It could also be attributes that help in clearly naming roles of the participants.

For example eBay uses something called a RASCI model.

The acronym RASCI stand for Responsible Approver Supporter Consultant and Informed. The roles of the people present at any meeting fall under any one of these categories and everyone should be clear on their own and everyone else’s role representation for a meeting.

This model is recognised as the RASCi mongoose in the organisation.

Examples of Good Practices
Certain companies like Salesforce follow No Meeting Thursdays where throughout the organisation, there are no meetings scheduled on Thursdays. This helps with the work-life balance and gives a breather to employees to use this time and space in the way that serves them best.

Another common practice is to follow a protocol where all the meetings are scheduled only on certain days and times allowing time for “Flow Time” activities. These activities are typically those that require mental space needed in achieving tasks that require deeper concentration and creative thinking.

At the end of the meeting, it is a good practice to review how the meeting went. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t as a group.

With a clear objective in mind, a tight agenda, and a commitment to involve all the participants in the planning stages, preparation and finally execution of the meeting, your meetings will be extremely effective.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

Check out our end of season subscription discounts with a Moneycontrol pro subscription absolutely free. Use code EOSO2021. Click here for details.