Meeting Productivity: You’ve exposed the ugly truth about Meetings!

A month ago, I wrote a small article expressing our love and hate relationship with meetings. You might have even taken part in a short survey. You have spoken, and some of the results may surprise you!

As a quick recap, the survey focus was to explore your pain points related to work meetings and what you would like to do about it. With that stage set, let’s listen to your voice and begin with understanding what you hate the most about meetings.

Conversations going off-topic and No clear agenda stood out by far. If you notice carefully, they point to the deadliest sin behind most failed meetings — Lack of Preparedness. They somewhat have a cause and effect relationship. Typically, due to lack of clear agenda, conversations end up going off-topic. While we have seen that intermittent delays tend to perpetrate distractions, lack of agenda is the biggest hitter. Clearly, many meetings end up becoming a thumb twiddling exercise as a result. However, there is a straightforward way to fix this problem — Try to make every meeting a working meeting. To start off, set that agenda! Give the participants tools to better prepare such as to-do lists and collaboration spaces. In few cases, you might even end up cancelling such meetings because the participants have collaborated and contributed ahead of time.

There is another interesting relationship between the next pair — Too long or running over and Too many participants. If you study carefully, they point to Poor Meeting Structure. The biggest example of structure abuse is large status meetings, the evil of all evils. These meetings typically have participants at different positions and from different departments within an organization. If you are an engineer, at some point you were either manufacturing code or daydreaming when the marketing folks were pitching. Such meetings also have a claustrophobic effect of more people leaning against the wall than sitting in chairs. Furthermore, since all possible topics that can be thought of are being crammed in a limited time span, delays tend to cascade and such meetings face the risk of running over.

Moving on to what you typically do when you face these colossal inefficiencies. While you do take some effort in communicating your frustrations or opinions via email, phone or face-to-face, close to a third of you do nothing. That‘s right, nothing! You deeply care about meeting productivity (98%), but a good number of you choose not to do anything about it. We had couple of interesting observations in our follow-up 1:1 with some of you — Anonymity and Lack of Unified Voice. Some participants are just not that comfortable expressing openly to hosts that they conduct meetings poorly. Some fear that once they do, they face the embarrassment of being singled out. You desire anonymity. Furthermore, you seek a unified voice expressing the issue, which helps corroborate the claim. Interestingly though, when we performed cross-correlation of meeting host data, we realized that hosts deeply care about improving quality of their meetings. So, don’t be shy, go ahead and express yourself! Besides, organizations may even encourage you do so as almost 40% of you mentioned that the companies you work for are concerned about inefficient meetings and how they impact productivity.

Finally, we tipped a hypothetical question about how technology could help solve your meeting gripes. Note the relationship between categorized responses in bubbles and the pain points you’ve expressed. Interestingly, it’s a perfect and statistically significant correlation. When done right, fixing lack of preparedness translates into improvedmeeting throughput. Lack of proper structure, second down the evil list, can be fixed by smartly adjusting meetings. The example of large status meetings I gave before could be cleverly “adjusted” by breaking the meeting down into multiple targeted slots. This manages the number of participants in the room and alleviates the risk of running over due to limited number of topics per slot.

Peter Drucker, who is widely considered the founder of modern management, once quoted — “Meetings are by definition a concession to a deficient organization. For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time.” Let’s make the most out of our meetings by solving real productivity issues that we take for granted. Let’s meet well, and work well as a result.