Stop The Meeting Madness


In our interviews with hundreds of executives, in fields ranging from high tech and retail to pharmaceuticals and consulting, many said they felt overwhelmed by their meetings—whether formal or informal, traditional or agile, face-to-face or electronically mediated. One said, “I cannot get my head above water to breathe during the week.” Another described stabbing her leg with a pencil to stop from screaming during a particularly torturous staff meeting. Such complaints are supported by research showing that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them. To be sure, meetings are essential for enabling collaboration, creativity, and innovation.  A study by Steven Rogelberg, of the University of North Carolina, and colleagues showed that how workers feel about the effectiveness of meetings correlates with their general satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their jobs, even after controlling for personality traits and environmental factors such as work design, supervision, and pay. Instead of improving communication and collaboration, as intended, bad meetings undermine those things. We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together. The good news is, we’ve found that changing the way your team and your organization approach meetings is possible. In this article we describe a five-step process for that— We have seen how much organizations can benefit when they focus their energy on transforming meetings instead of just tolerating them. With a structured approach to analyzing and changing meeting patterns throughout your team or unit, you can make significant improvements. We’ve seen groups escape the meeting trap by working together to follow five basic steps:

1. Gather data and impressions from every individual.

2. Next, it’s critical to come together as a team or a unit to digest everyone’s feedback and analyze what is working and what is not.

3. We have found that personally benefiting from the group’s initiative is a great motivator.

4. It is important that concrete and measurable progress be assessed and discussed along the way.

5. Regularly take stock in how people feel about their meetings and their work progress in general.

Meetings do not have to be a trap; they can be a conduit for change. A process like this one can improve productivity, communication, and integration of the team’s work, not to mention job satisfaction and work/life balance. In the end, better meetings—and better work lives—result.

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