Good meetings mean good business

I gave a lecture last week at Columbia University on how to effectively lead meetings. Much of what we discussed focused on ‘building your leadership brand by managing good meetings’. We agreed that a good meeting had to have: a purpose (reason), a clear agenda, and that the meeting had to be led in such a way that it produced clear results and planned actions.

Here are two significant facts:

Meetings are often a waste of time (and money) …

On average, an executive has about 61.8 meetings per month. There are executives at Google who have as many as 70 meetings a week! On any given day there are 11 million meetings in the US alone.

However, statistics show that over half of these meetings are completely unproductive. As an employee, spending much of your working time in uninspiring meetings affects how you feel about your work and job in general, yet the trend towards more meetings continues…

And if you translate the hours that employees spend in unproductive meetings into what these lost hours cost an organization…

As Bob Hagerty, Chairman of Polycom, said: “I think unsuccessful meetings can be a disaster – they’re unpleasant to be in, they’re ineffective, they’re a waste of time, and they create a huge productivity hole. If you look around the room in most corporate meetings, there’s a lot of money being burned by the minute.”

Information on how to run good meetings is at your fingertips

One of the primary reasons that meetings are unproductive is that they are called for the wrong reason – the same information could have been covered in a memo, email or brief report. Learning to differentiate between the need for one-way information dissemination versus two-way information sharing is the first step.

The second reason is that organizations and executives don’t know how to run a productive meeting. Despite abundant literature and published material on ‘How to run effective meetings’, meeting information management software, meeting trainings, as well as the option to use an experienced meeting facilitator or meeting planner (be it internal or external), today’s ineffective meeting reality prevails.

There are some companies who have recognized the effect of meetings on their bottom line and who make a concerted effort to train their employees. Intel, for example, where everyone who joins the firm undergoes a rigorous training program on how to run effective meetings, and for years this course was taught by former CEO Andy Grove.  Throughout conference and meeting rooms in the firm there are posters that ask three key questions: 1) Do you know the purpose of this meeting? 2) Do you have an agenda? and 3) Do you know your role?

If you want to take things a step further ask: what turns a ‘good’ meeting into a ‘great’ meeting? There are plenty of creative approaches to meetings that can easily move the meeting participation and productivity needle, such as managing meeting time (studies have shown, for example, that Tuesday is the best day for a meetings, Friday the worst), seating arrangements (research has shown that people fit into seven personality types based on where they sit), room color (color influences moods) and room temperature.

But most importantly, you need to manage the meeting dynamics – learn how to encourage participation and deal with meeting hijackers (the late-comer, the crackberry addict, the talker, the bully…). If you’re in charge of the meeting then you need to manage the agenda and the participants.

So, next time you’re planning a meeting and think: we’ll work it out when we get there… maybe put some more time into your planning to ensure that everyone leaves ready for action – rather than ready for bed!