A recent UK study of employee perceptions of time spent in meetings suggests that employees believe that over half the time spent in meetings is unproductive.  According the Centre for Economics and Business Research, this means that meetings cost the UK about 26 billion pounds a year in lost or poorly applied time.  Among the contributing factors were repetitive information, lack of clear focus and poor agendas.

I have yet to find anyone who criticizes these findings.  Instead, many writers have used it to advocate for certain “fixes.”   This began with the projector manufacturer Epson who funded the study and certainly would like you to use new projectors for better presentations.  (Problems with technology in meetings were cited as a cause of lost time by 16 percent of respondents).

Another reaction to the study was published in Management Today.   This UK periodical offered their top tips for reducng unproductive time in meetings:  

  • Doing away with chairs
  • Avoiding meetings by:
    • Getting social (using Twitter etc., instead of meeting)
    • Opting out (if its not relevant to you, just leave)
    • Encouraging a “water cooler culture” (as ad hoc face to face interaction could lead to fewer meetings)
  • Avoiding technology blunders
  • Setting shorter, bolder timings for specific meeting discussions
  • Getting more creative with locations (off sites in unusual, refreshing places)
  • Limiting use of personal technology (68% of UK office workers report being distracted by others’ use of electronic devices in meetings)
  • Using professional facilitators
  • Serving better biscuits (I think they meant this!)

Hmmm.  What happened to a clear agenda focused on the work to be done?  Or ways to reach clear decisions or to manage different opinions?  Maybe it is really all about the biscuits… but I don’t think so.

Structuring More Productive Meetings

Yes, I have my own recommendations for improving the return on time spent in meetings.  Those who read this blog regularly won’t be surprised to find that I emphasize getting real results from meetings.  Whether a meeting is 30 minutes or 3 hours in length is less important than whether the value of meeting outcomes justifies the time spent to produce them.  Here are my recommendations:

1) Develop a clear statement of the task of the discussion.  The task should be clearly defined (not just a topic), actionable by the people present, timely (should be addressed now), with a carefully “budgeted” amount of time for discussion (that is managed to in the meeting).  Finally, limit or eliminate any meeting items that are just “updates”  (see When Is a Meeting Not a Meeting for more on this).

2) Invite participants who have the authority, need, expertise, information to develop and implement any decision reached on the particular task.  Avoid just inviting the “usual suspects” with little further thought as to their involvement in the work of the meeting.

3) Structure the meeting so all can share their views effectively and efficiently.  With a group larger than 8, this is likely to mean some quickly organized, small group work (following a process like the on given in the tool I call 1-2-All).

4) Decide how you intend to use this meeting in reaching a decision in advance and make this clear to participants.  Otherwise you may find that participants have different views of their involvement in and commitment to the decisions reached.  (See Avoid the “GM Nod” for more on this problem.)

5) Implement appropriate and timely follow-up actions on the implementation of any decision.  I suggest any follow-up happen within 30-40 days, and be done in a way that promotes reflection and learning, and minimizes defensive reactions.

Yes, I left out a number of Management Today’s recommendations. I just don’t think that removing chairs or serving better snacks is where real improvements lie.  Of course a good facilitator can help … but so many everyday meetings need to be run productively whether or not they have a facilitator present.

For more on my views of ways to improve the productivity of meetings, see Meeting ROI: Spending Time or Getting Work Done?  Meanwhile, where do I collect my share of that 26 billion?

© 2015 Meeting for Results