How to make meetings count

| June 6, 2018

Recently, one of my senior clients in a large Australian organisation declared a war on meetings! Like many organisations, there was a lot of pressure of resources, and a need for his people to do more with less.

One lever he could pull to address this problem was to free up more productive time for his team by reducing wasted time in unproductive meetings. He needed to get his team to count every meeting, and make every meeting count!

He saw his team spending large chucks of their week in meetings and wondered what the cost of this was to their productivity. They did some internal research and found that there was a lot of frustration around meetings in general.

Meetings were seen as a necessary and valuable way to get work done, but there were simply too many of them, and most were not as productive as they could be. There was some real room for improvement.

I reckon there are four meeting challenges in most organisations:

1. We call too many meetings;
2. These meetings are generally longer than necessary;
3. Too many participants are invited, often ‘just in case’;
4. The meetings are poorly planned and organised.

Addressing these issues requires a major change to the productivity culture in an organisation. It takes a concerted effort, and it requires leadership.

In fact, leaders need to not just champion the project to improve the meeting culture, they also need to model excellent meeting behaviours themselves. Why should staff turn up to meetings on time when they see senior management arrive late more often than not?

So, this senior executive asked for my help to create a more productive meeting culture in his division. His first task was to mobilise his leadership team around the issue. He put meeting effectiveness firmly on the agenda at a team offsite, and got them to take ownership of the project to improve the meeting culture.

An internal team of champions was tasked with developing a set of ‘Golden Rules’ or expected meeting behaviours that would be communicated to the wider division. This was backed up with an extensive rollout of productivity training to give everyone the skills to manage their meetings and their time more effectively.

Then the hard work began. It is one thing to come up with the agreed behaviours, and another to actually live them. Leadership was key here, as the leadership team needed to keep this topic on the agenda for an extended period of time so it got the traction it needed.

Leaders at all levels needed to model the ‘Golden rules’ themselves, consistently call out poor behaviours, and praise people when they demonstrated good meeting behaviours.

It is early days yet, but the division in question is seeing results, and other divisions are taking notice. This change to the culture of one division is now creating ripples and is influencing the behaviours of people in other divisions.

This project was one of a number of initiatives that were put in place to increase productivity and effectiveness. But it may be one of the most important and impactful projects that they execute this year.

It is an initiative that improves the productivity of many people at once, and creates a more productive and inspiring workplace. Meetings are now seen as one tool that can be used to achieve an outcome, but a tool that should be used wisely and with restraint.

If you were to ask your team how they felt about the meeting culture in your organisation, what do you think their response would be? Would they feel that too much of their time was spent in unproductive meetings?

If so, is this a project that you should consider over the coming months? Consider it seriously, it may be the most productive thing you do this year!