Meetings can be a brilliant business tool for making plans and getting things done. You gather together the best minds in the company to brainstorm, discuss, strategise and delegate. Everyone leaves the meeting charged up, focused and ready to make big changes.
Good meetings should be short, relevant, efficient and generate real results. The reality is that meetings can be a big drain on company resources. They can decrease productivity and take your best staff away from the job for too long without tangible benefits. Too many pointless meetings can even annoy your customers, who get fed up of hearing that the person they are calling is in a meeting yet again.
This article exposes the four key curses of business meetings and tips on how to break them. The results should speak for themselves. Increased productivity, better staff morale and a leaner business are just some of the great advantages of taking the axe to useless boring meetings.
Recent research1 carried out by headset specialist Sennheiser Communications studied 2,000 workers and revealed some interesting insights:
If these aren’t compelling enough reasons to tackle useless meetings, consider the cost. Various studies have looked at the actual cost of meetings to businesses, but it is easy enough to work out how much it is costing your business. Tot up time away from the office, cost of coffee, travel expenses (including overnight stays) and lost custom and the numbers are staggering.
Do those minutes look familiar? They should, because apart from the date and a slightly different ‘apologies’ list, they are the same minutes you’ve been reading through for months. The dreaded meeting Déjà Vu Curse has struck your organisation, and you are doomed to discuss the same minor points again and again.
Businesses get into the habit of having regular meetings, even if there is nothing new to say. These meetings tend to have unfathomable acronyms for names, like MMRs and PDRs. They happen weekly, or monthly, whether they are needed or not. And they take up hours of valuable productivity time when a simple round robin email would achieve the same end.
The problem with these regular meetings is that there just isn’t enough material to sustain them. And yet an hour per week has been assigned to it that gets filled up discussing the same non-issues over and over. And when there really is nothing left to say, there is usually someone there at the meeting to say it. It’s no wonder then that staff get bored and drift off in meetings when they could be storming ahead at their desks making sales and hitting targets. Breaking the Déjà Vu Curse can take planning and resources, but when compared to the real cost of having the same meeting over and over, the benefits are clear.
How to Break the Déjà Vu Curse:
Far from increasing productivity and nurturing innovation, meetings often suck the vigour and focus out of attendees by leaving them time-poor and none-the-wiser. The Blurred Lines Curse strikes again.
It isn’t just a problem with unclear actions either. Actions set in meetings seem to be considered as ancillary to the attendees’ main job and don’t get given priority. Perhaps that is because meetings themselves often seem ancillary to what is happening on the ground in the business.
Here’s an example. An organisation needs a new ‘No Entry’ sign on the gates and an attendee is asked to ring around to find prices. In week two, the attendee reports back that he, indeed, rang around to find out prices. For the next meeting, the attendee must compare prices and choose the best one and report their findings at the following meeting. The attendee is then charged with telephoning the company to order the sign. At the next meeting, he reports that a special design is required. Another attendee is charged with getting the design and so on. You can see how six months could pass in arranging this sign.
Meetings should be used to thrash out problems and solutions. If attendees are actively involved in the discussion and can see the problem, the solution should be easier to reach. Creating problems, then delegating them out is the wrong way to go about meetings and creates those blurred lines and lack of accountability that keeps the same problem on the minutes for months on end.
How to Break the Blurred Lines Curse:
If staff at your company meetings spend more time off on a tangent than discussing the important matters at hand, it may be time to tackle the Off-Piste Curse – the plague of boring meetings where delegates discuss anything and everything as long as it isn’t work.
This often happens where there is no strict agenda, no structure and no one person responsible for facilitating the meeting. A group of colleagues round a table with coffee on tap is not a recipe for productivity unless you introduce a few key rules that turn it from break-time to target-time. Meetings can also develop a reputation for being slack-off time, where drinking tea and catching up with ‘Jim’ from head office takes precedence over thrashing out who should be taking ownership of the new marketing strategy.
Meetings that go off-piste aren’t just wasting company time and money, they increase the boredom that those not involved in the discussion feel. If this sounds like the meetings you attend, it is time to get things back on track.
How to Break the Off-Piste Curse
Anyone who has worked in a large organisation has more than likely attended a meeting about a meeting, packed with staff who have nothing to do with the issues at hand. Meeting overkill, or the OTT Curse, is a plague on companies that recognise the value of meetings but are afraid they aren’t having enough of them. Aimless meetings create confusion and generate unnecessary work. They create so much uncertainty that more meetings are often needed to clarify the uncertainties and what to do about them. And then you have staff pulled away from their desks and urgent tasks to listen to others talk about – rather than do – their jobs. If you have 10 people in your meeting, research shows that six of them don’t think they should be there.2 Perhaps it’s time to reduce the meetings, reduce the time they take and reduce the number of people who are invited.
How to Break the OTT Curse:
There should be fewer meetings with fewer attendees. Meetings should be well organised with a facilitator, and should have clear, identifiable aims agreed upon prior to the meeting in an agenda.
If a message needs to be conveyed to a number of staff, send out a bulletin rather than holding a meeting. Why pull staff away from profit-making operations for half an hour to hear something that would take them just 30 seconds to read?
Staff who aren’t directly involved should be excluded from the meeting and updated in a round robin. Companies with staff out of the office or working at different locations should harness the powers of modern technology and introduce online meetings. Online meetings can eradicate many of the other costs and disadvantages associated with meetings, including travel expenses, lost working time and lack of engagement.
Like all business processes, planning and goal setting help to make every meeting count. You wouldn’t go into a meeting with your business banking manager unprepared and with nothing to discuss, so try to bring the same level of organisation and relevance to your internal business meetings.