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Communication, Culture, Leadership, Productivity

The Root Causes of Meeting Misery

Just to set expectations –

This is not a post that points out how meetings are too long or poorly planned. Those have been written….many times…over the course of years.

And yet, here we still are.

This is a post that uncovers why such problems exist (and persist). Yes, as I tend to do, I look beyond the symptoms of troublesome org cultural habits to find the root causes – the inherent diseases. These must be acknowledged and addressed before we can effect change in our companies and teams…assuming we even want to. That’s a whole other issue I had to cover in a separate post.

We know meetings are chaos/boring/irrelevant/toxic/disorganized/loooooong.  Pick an adjective – they all apply.  What we finally need to do is acknowledge why:

Productivity is not yet a thing.

We don’t think of time control in the way we think of cost control, even though time is a much more finite resource and one that can deliver exceptional ROI.

As a change agent, it’s hard to inspire senior management to re-engineer meetings with a sole benefit of saving X number of labor hours a month across the company. Because sadly, few really see that as a big win. There is no clear translation to the bottom line that anyone can point to and for most corporate execs, that’s what they respond to. They aren’t going to take this on for the sake of people getting out at 8 every night instead of 9. That only matters to them until other worrisome metrics appear such as work time missed or turnover.

Our very 1986 business processes that still exist today remain because productivity and organizational agility have yet to catch on as a source of employee engagement and marketplace responsiveness. So, we continue to trudge along, bloated and inefficient. And championing how important it is that we work hard (…and long).

Meeting management is not valued as a leadership discipline….

So….question:

How much of your raise or bonus is impacted by your prowess at organizing and chairing meetings?

<blink blink>

OK then, how does this skill get built into your performance appraisals or routine coaching from your managers?

Exactly. Not much.

Therein lies a big problem. While meetings are routinely cited by all levels as the biggest time wasters in a work day, we choose not to leverage key infrastructural assets to address it. Mind = blown.

We are supposed to coach, rate, and reward people for the things that matter and drive results in a business. The time has come for meeting management to matter, although as I acknowledged in the last section, productivity isn’t yet widely seen as a win. Perhaps this Harvard study of the meeting time wasted in a very large company could get our attention, when we see such alarming stats in totality.

….and therefore few are good at it.

I will say that some companies do have access to leadership courses in meeting management. Not many though. So in most places that I have worked, I have found skills to be average. What’s worse, there are few to look up to as the model, since, as I said, there is no focus on this expertise or development of it. So yeah, a lot of us can see some of the problems with meetings but as it turns out, we ourselves aren’t much better.

And I’m not here to simply criticize. I’m also here to sympathize. When I’m on my game I’m a kick butt meeting chair, thanks mostly to my passion for productivity and agile management. But it’s hard, real hard. It takes both energy and skill to drive clarity on the purpose, create a defined vision of what success looks like, prepare and share precise and concise information as background and then – this is a big one – control and direct the conversation within the meeting. That last one is a doozy, especially in a big meeting with many agendas, personalities and rates of learning. Takes patience, firmness and diplomacy.

It’s a discipline that requires development, practice and great guidance.

We love to gather.

As someone who skews a bit to the introvert side of the spectrum, I joke about this one although not always fairly. Still, our habits are as much a problem as they are a benefit.

Humans are mostly social animals and our instincts are similar in the business environment. When something happens or we want to know something or we’re unsure of our own abilities to deal with a business issue, we gather.

There are many situations that are either planned or unforeseen where meetings make sense, so I’m not suggesting we ban them by any stretch. But we default to meetings for far too many things. We still prefer to disseminate volumes information orally and in groups which to this day continues to amaze me. We think larger groups are more creative, while we think that more and more people together in one space cause greater and greater outcomes.

More is better is still our default when in fact the opposite is usually true. I have written in the past that I hope that believe we will finally embrace lessons on this and start to shift our thinking. What this means for work is that we will continue to collaborate but instead will rely on systems and ourselves as more valuable resources than accessing bigger teams.

 

We all know in both our minds and guts that meetings are significant time wasters. And in my mind, misuse and disrespect of our time is a leading contributor to employee dissatisfaction; it stops us from focusing on work matters of greater impact and causes resentment for the encroachment on our time better spent on other things we value.

The discipline of meeting management – including how and when we use them – is long overdue for focus and certainly an overhaul. This is tough to do across an entire company, unless you work in the startup domain (yay, I do!) where you’re starting with a contained team.  If you are a part of something much larger, start small and begin to create new models within your own teams. Use your own ideas and seek out professional guidance. You will create positive inertia in your work day an in your careers because you will dedicate much less of your invaluable time to meetings….and when you do, you’ll be causing real outcomes.

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