Too many meetings. And unproductive meetings at that. What’s a company to do?
A recent survey of more than 3,000 U.S. employees by Salary.com found 47% of workers cited excessive—and ultimately unproductive—meetings as the top time waster in their offices.
And it’s not just annoying, it’s also very costly. American employees collectively attend some 55 million meetings a day and it’s estimated that the annual cost of them—when weighted with the average salary data of attendees—is a staggering $1.4 trillion.
It doesn’t have to be this way, says University of North Carolina professor and business consultant Steven Rogelberg, whose new book “The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance” synthesizes the latest research from management and behavioral science into a how-to guide that offers sound advice on simple changes meeting leaders can implement. Here are his top tips, as outlined in a recent column in the Harvard Business Review:
“Meetings done right promote inclusion, engagement, innovation, teamwork, and collective success. They can become welcome events, rather than dreaded time sucks.”
—Steven Rogelberg, University of North Carolina professor,
business consultant and author
1. Better meeting leadership requires better self-observation. “Take a few minutes after each meeting you run to reflect. Think about attendee behavior, conversational dynamics and the content that was covered,” writes Rogelberg. “Ask yourself: Were people distracted? Conducting side conversations? Consider who did most of the talking. Was it you, or one or two other people? Did the discussion stray to irrelevant topics? Were all the opinions and ideas that were expressed fairly similar? If you answer yes to some or all of these questions, there’s a problem.”
2. Check in periodically with people who attend your meetings to get their feedback. “You can do this face-to-face, making sure to emphasize that you truly want candid feedback, or you can use technology to gauge participants’ attitudes. Once you’ve reflected on your own and solicited feedback from others, identify your key strengths and weaknesses and create a plan for improvement. In my consulting, I’ve found it useful to focus on two areas: preparation and facilitation.”
3. Come prepared with an agenda and a plan. “People routinely ignore this best practice when it comes to meetings. Especially with regularly scheduled ones, it’s easy to simply show up and default to the usual way of doing things. But when you’re a steward of others’ time, you owe it to them to make some modest upfront investment. If you don’t have a clear mission or a list of agenda items, you should probably cancel.”
4. Only invite employees who truly need to attend. “Once you know why you’re meeting, decide who needs to be there to help you. Too many attendees can lead to a cacophony of voices or social loafing, not to mention logistical challenges. That said, you don’t want to pare the invite list down so much that necessary people aren’t there or others end up feeling slighted. To find the right balance, think carefully about key decision makers, influencers and stakeholders. You might also consider a timed agenda, in which attendees join only the portions of the meeting pertinent to them.”
5. Don’t get into monotonous routines when it comes to time and place. “It’s human nature to stick to the same room, same hour and same general setup. But those routines can cause people to glaze over. Instead, find ways to introduce variety: Move to a different venue, meet in the morning instead of the afternoon, experiment with nontraditional time blocks or change the seating arrangements so that everyone is next to and across from different colleagues.”
6. Be an courteous and effective facilitator. “Facilitation starts the moment attendees walk into the room. Because people often experience meetings as interruptions—taking them away from their ‘real work’—the leader’s first task is to promote a sense of presence among attendees. There are several ways to do this: By greeting people at the door, expressing gratitude for their time, offering snacks, playing music and asking folks to turn off their phones and laptops. As the conversation gets started, try to adopt a stewardship mindset, asking questions, engaging others, modeling active listening, drawing out concerns and managing conflicts.”