Put the zing back in meetings. Here’s how.  

Michael C. Mankins, partner at Bain & Company, used data mining to determine how meetings impact employees’ time. He analyzed Outlook schedules of a large company, and deduced that a weekly status meeting held by senior executives to share business updates, demanded a total of 300,000 hours of their employees’ time annually. You read that number right. Such is the case with innumerable other organizations, because they spend 19% of the collective time of employees in meetings. This results in a $ 37 billion dollar spend per year.

If the numbers stated above aren’t scary enough, employees consider more than 67% of the meetings to be failures, and hence unproductive. That calls for some serious corrective measures!

When the management of Dropbox realized how meetings were draining their employees of productivity and morale, they launched a dramatic campaign called ‘Armeetingeddon’, wiping out all meetings in everyone’s calendars. Their employees not just breathed a huge sigh of relief, but also gained more control of their time.

Though you need not execute something as disruptive to mitigate the negative impacts of meetings, here are some ideas worth considering.

Less is more when it comes to the number of participants in a meeting. Research indicates that a small group of people, ideally less than 8, is more fertile in terms of ideation and execution. It prevents social loafing, where participants in large groups contribute less, thinking that someone else will. Bib Latane, a psychologist, says this is the result of decreased individual pressure that comes with being part of a group. Another study proved that people in large groups feel pressurized to look busy, inspite of not being so. That’s why some of us fiddle with our cell phones during meetings! Thus, invite only those who are absolutely indispensable for a given meeting.

Al Pittampalli, author of ‘Read This Before Our Next Meeting’, strongly believes that since all professional gatherings are loosely called meetings, the motivation to partake in them gets diluted. “Imprecise language obscures the true purpose of these gatherings, making it difficult to prioritize. It’s also harder to distinguish the worthwhile ones from the worthless.” To address this, he suggests having a ‘robust vocabulary’ for different kinds of meetings. When it’s a one-on-one discussion, call it a conversation, and not a meeting. Gatherings where you want employees to ideate and solve a problem, can be called brainstorming, and the ones which require a group of employees to come up with an end product together, can be called group-work sessions.

Another idea was propagated by Steve Jobs, who insisted that every official gathering have more than one DRI or Directly Responsible Individual. The person setting up the meeting is responsible for defining a strong agenda for the meeting, and finalizing the attendees list. And as a result of the gathering, each emerging action item needs to have a separate accountable individual. This not only prevents a chunk of work falling on one person, but also ensures that action is taken after a meeting, rendering it productive.

Quoting management guru Peter Drucker, “one either meets or one works”.  And you cannot substitute one for the other. But since there are compelling reasons to meet at work, we invite you to break the status quo, and start a trend of ‘non-meetings’. What would that look like for you?

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