A comprehensive look at the meetings of 92 teams from 20 mid-sized companies over several years, produced a number of findings on the impact of effective or ineffective meetings on team/organizational performance. (See Strategy + Business for a synopsis).
Across various measures of performance, the authors found that teams reporting satisfaction with their meetings had higher productivity, and their organizations showed good performance on measures of productivity, innovation and market share. Effective meetings were found to be those where:
- There were clear statements of the objective or task to be addressed.
- Participants provided various perspectives on the task
- Comments were directed towards potential solutions
- Team members were able express personal responsibility for action
- Leaders (or facilitators) kept the meeting focused.
By comparison, ineffective meetings were seen as unfocused and characterized by “dysfunctional communicative behaviors such as criticizing or complaining.” Responsibility tended to be shifted to others in cycles of blaming and complaining. The impact of dysfunctional meetings was seen to have a powerful (downward) spiral effect on employee morale as well as team and organizational performance.
I know this study validates my own experience, perhaps your too. Many of us know how difficult it is to do our best work and stay committed to mutual outcomes in an environment where meetings fail to engage us in contributing our best ideas in efficient and effective ways.
Perhaps this research motivates you to do more to improve the effectiveness of meetings in your team or organization. If so, I recommend you begin with two structural improvements:
1) First consider the participants. Do you have the people with the necessary information and responsibility in the discussion? A tool called “ARE IN” reminds you to involve those with:
- Authority to act on their own to address the subject,
- Resources to apply to implementing any plan,
- Expertise relevant to the subject,
- Information, and
- Need (for a resolution).
2) Second, the meeting discussion should be organized around a clearly defined objective. Such a clear definition is a
- Focused: The subject is clear and bounded task or problem to be addressed.
- Actionable: This group has the relevant authority and resources to act.
- Timely: This is the right time to address this subject
- Timed: The assigned time is adequate for the discussion
(Note: A focused statement of the meeting work is more than just the typical agenda. Most meeting agendas are a simple list of points to be covered with an inadequate definition of the expected outcome of any of those points.)
If you find yourself leading a meeting where the work isn’t clearly defined or understood by all, and where the right people are not present to discuss it, then the best thing for the team and the organization could be to adjourn until these both can be fixed.
More information on these tools can be found elsewhere on this site (see Choices and Tools). A number of previous posts (e.g., here and here) have referred to previous studies and addressed the challenges and supporting structures for the effective use of meeting time.
 Developed by M. Weisbord and S. Janoff and described in Future Search. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010, p. 48.