Use ICE to put an end to meeting frustration

If you’re staring into a calendar packed with meetings and your mind starts to wander and think of all the things you’d rather do than to sit through those meetings, then you wouldn’t be the only one. Most people can’t stand the thought of having one more meeting. For some, walking on hot coals could seem more appealing.

We spend an average of a third of a working week in meetings — more if we’re on an executive level. Research show that most employees attend an average of 62 meetings per month. And 50% of the time spent in meetings is considered wasted. So, it’s no surprise that in polls you get responses showing that close to 1 out of 5 would choose to watch paint dry instead of attending yet another status meeting. Or that almost 1 out of 10 would opt for a root canal over a quarterly review. That’s how bad current meeting culture is.

The meeting frustration

It’s clear that meetings are taking their toll on people in the workplace, resulting in frustration and stress. In addition, unproductive meetings are also costing companies a substantial amount of money. As an example, in Sweden they’re costing a company with 100 employees a whopping 150 000 SEK per employee yearly. Besides, research shows that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the years. Executives now spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.

Blunt tools and no training

Meetings are unquestionably making companies waste valuable time. Two things stand out when I work with organizations to help them improve their meetings. The first is the tools generally being used. The whiteboard is the second most used tool in meetings and 1 out of 3 participants still use a notepad. In a modern era that pushes a strong trend among many organizations to adopt the so-called “digital workplace,” the popularity of these analog devices is simply mind-boggling. Why shouldn’t meetings benefit from using specifically adapted digital products or tools for meetings, in the same way we’re using bespoke products in other areas, such as Salesforce for CRM or Zendesk for customer support? The good news is that the use of products such as the one we’re working with at Mobilimeet, that enables meetings to be more productive and engaging, is gradually becoming more common as people are experiencing the benefits.

The second noticeable thing is the lack of training. We’re all expected to play our part to be more efficient in meetings. And certainly, as a manager the expectation is that you will plan and use your team’s time wisely. But here’s the kicker: 75% of people running meetings have received no formal training on how to conduct a meeting. Let that sink in for a while.

Don’t forget before and after

So, what can we do to change this? How can meetings, as one of the biggest productivity killers at work, be turned around to be meaningful opportunities that lead to actual results and growth, both on an organization level as well as for each individual attendee? Well, you’ve probably read numerous articles about the importance of being on time, setting a clear agenda and so on. This is all true. But it’s also important to look beyond when the actual meeting takes place and make sure that planning goes into laying the groundwork for having a productive meeting, as well as handling follow-up effectively. You’ve probably been in a meeting at some point where you’ve felt that you had a great meeting but then there was no real follow-up, so it ended up being a waste of time. It’s because of habits like this that 70% of people admit to bringing other work to meetings.

Use ICE to improve your meetings

There are a lot of tips out there on how to have effective meetings and they can be a lot to take in at first. However, if you start using “ICE” you can help reduce a lot of that meeting frustration. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with keeping your cool in meetings, although it’s good not to let that meeting frustration get to you. “ICE” stands for Involve, Collaborate, and Engage.

1. Involve

Participants should be involved right from the moment they’re invited. Involving participants not only sends a signal that their involvement is valuable, but it also facilitates a higher level of engagement. A person who feels involved is more likely to also be committed.

To start with, it should be abundantly clear to everyone when they receive an invitation what the purpose of the meeting is. Also, get everyone involved in pre-meeting discussions. Sharing and interacting fosters creativity. Stay away from using lengthy email threads and instead use tools that offer instant interaction in a chat or message format. Regarding supporting materials, they should be distributed promptly and always be easily accessible in case any revisions are made prior to the meeting. And many times, they are. The same thing goes for the agenda. It’s not only the organizer who should be prepared for the meeting so should also the participants. Make sure that every participant knows beforehand what he or she is expected to contribute with during the meeting.

If it turns out that one or more participants are not required to be particularly involved or expected to contribute in a meeting, then refrain from inviting them. Spare them from sitting through a meeting that isn’t relevant to them.

2. Collaborate

Author and management expert Ken Blanchard supposedly said, “none of us is as smart as all of us”. This is certainly true in meetings. Getting people involved results in good meetings. Having them work together too, enables great meetings. Meetings should embrace a collaborative approach instead of the one-man show approach. Unfortunately the latter is still seen in many cases where the organizer runs the meeting with the participants as mere spectators as opposed to active contributors.

There are several ways to create incentives for collaboration. In many types of meetings, the agenda shouldn’t merely be shared, it should be open for discussion before being finalized. Allowing for participants to give input to the agenda ensures that the right things (as determined by the majority of attendees) are brought up to be addressed. A timeslot should also be assigned to each agenda point, to provide adequate time to discuss and decide on next step if necessary. Enabling anyone to share documents or other supporting materials in a simple manner gives everyone a chance to chip in to provide a comprehensive view of the matters at hand.

Transparency also helps to trigger collaboration, so have the meeting minutes be visible, preferably in real-time, all throughout the meeting. With everyone being able to follow along as notes are taken, instant feedback and comments are easily obtained. Moreover, all actions decided in a meeting should also be transparent to everyone attending. Seeing who’s supposed to do what and when creates an openness that promotes a constructive dialogue.

Copy this Trello board and use it for your collaborative meetings.

3. Engage

If great meetings have participants that are involved and collaborate, excellent meetings are the ones where everyone’s actively engaged as well.

To solve the problem of the lack of training mentioned earlier, we not only need to be involved and to collaborate but we also need to be actively engaged. To learn you need to be hands on. And you need to be accountable. Tracking and measuring is an important part of learning, hence committing to a task or an assignment and following up progress is active learning. Therefore, don’t just share and discuss the agenda but also assign agenda points to those participating. This requires preparation ahead of the meeting and active participation during the meeting. As for after the meeting, make sure to assign actions to be followed up. And don’t be negligent with following up accordingly. Bear in mind that the outcome of a meeting depends just as much on the work that goes into planning and follow-up, as the work you do during the meeting.

If you’re regularly attending, or running, one or several types of recurring meetings together with a team, you can alternate the responsibility of performing certain tasks within the team. This offers variety and again allows for everyone to actively learn. It could for example be the task of taking notes. Or even taking on the role as organizer. It’s actively learning by doing.

Being able to have more effective meetings is like most things — it requires practice. One approach is to take any of the large number of various courses out there to improve your meeting skills. Regardless, ICE can help step up your game in meetings.

So, the next time you’re about to start planning a meeting, think ICE. Don’t let the thought of a root canal seem more tempting.

Please leave a comment and share what type of tools you use in your organization to manage your meetings more effectively and what you’re doing to put an end to meeting frustration. And please also feel free to reach out to me if there’s anything you want to discuss.

ICE to meet you!

Joachim Lerulf, Founder & CEO of Mobilimeet

This text is also available in Swedish

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