New research into Australian fast growth companies shows meetings have become unproductive sinkholes that interfere with organisational progress and sap the confidence of middle management.
Dr Ken Hudson, author of the international series, The Idea Generator, The Idea Accelerator and Speed Thinking, conducted in-depth interviews with more than 20 leaders of Australia’s fastest growth companies to determine the role played by meetings in building successful businesses.
Dr Hudson found that leaders and managers can spend up to 80 per cent of their time at work in meetings. “Almost all of them say that this is frustrating, wasteful and not beneficial to them, the people attending them or the company as a whole,” said Dr Hudson.
“But there’s a fatalistic acceptance in many organisations that meetings are a necessary evil and an unavoidable encumbrance. And yet surprisingly, few managers are focusing on how to improve outcomes from this key business activity.
Some of Dr Hudson’s tips for re-inventing meetings include:
1. Hold a short daily meeting and cancel a longer weekly one. Change the metaphorical term for your meeting – use words like, ‘scrum’, ‘muster’ or ‘huddle’ and encourage the meeting to move quickly by having people stand instead of sitting. Use this meeting to highlight brief achievements over the past 24 hours and run through what needs to be done next and ensuring bottlenecks are removed. The daily meetings are effective because they are short (10-15mins), everyone is involved in at least one daily huddle and it covers key results and metrics.
2. Reduce standard meeting times. Our electronic calendars default to a set time, in many cases one hour. Reduce this to 30 minutes.
3. Have a flexible agenda. Sticking to a set agenda means that people lose focus on the real point – an outcome. Keep meetings open for questions. Remember the most valuable ideas come from your people so give them a chance to share.
4. Articulate the purpose of the meeting ahead of time. Highlight the goals and outcomes of the meetings up front. This will help employees ask relevant questions without wasting anyone’s time. Design the meetings around the set goals – including the invitation list, if someone doesn’t have to be there don’t include them. If the purpose of the meeting is purely to inform, rather than to collaborate – send an email or update the intranet.
5. Measure effectiveness. The amount of time people spend in meetings impacts their job satisfaction. We spend a lot of our lives at work. Spending that time in meetings that waste time or disempowers can create a negative working culture. “Many corporate leaders simply accept that meetings aren’t productive but don’t do anything to change the status quo,” said Dr Hudson.
6. Survey meeting attendees and encourage honest and constructive criticism. Make meetings an opportunity for feedback. Ask simple questions at the end of a meeting. Do you think this is a good use of your time? Have you learned or shared anything that will help us achieve our company goals? Can you explain the purpose of this meeting? What would you suggest is a better way to get the result we’re looking for?
7. Give someone the job of making meetings work better. The meeting officer should make sure meetings support the goals of the company. Labour is the most expensive resource that most companies deploy and it makes no sense to tie them up in meetings for no measurable output. The meeting officer’s job is to challenge why there is a meeting in the first place, how well it performs against agreed criteria and restructure them if required.