The chances are you attend business meetings most weeks, if not most days. You also know the problem, don’t you? Most of those meetings that you visit are time-wasters. You probably sit there frustrated that someone is droning on about something inconsequential. You might even get bored and check your emails while only keeping half an ear open to what is going on. You are not alone.
One recent estimate of the time wasted in business meetings in America alone is $283bn year. Here in the UK, a recent report showed that our economy is hit by £9bn due to motorway traffic jams, where many of the cars are people travelling to meetings. Yesterday, I was chatting with a friend who said that he got very annoyed by people who turned up half-an-hour late for meetings, then spent the next 15 minutes talking about the traffic problems that caused their delay, further reducing the value of the meeting.
I suspect that like me you have wondered why meetings have been called. I went to a meeting recently that took me two hours to get there and another two to get home. The meeting lasted for an hour, and all that was discussed could have been dealt with in a ten-minute phone call. I am sure we could talk about our shared frustration and annoyance with time-wasting meetings and time-wasters who attend them.
But the crucial question is – are you doing anything about it? Or are you just letting it all carry on, thereby increasing your work-related stress? The time has come to do something about it.
Some people believe they have already done so. They tell me they have sorted the meeting issue by using online meeting technologies to stop all the time wasting. But therein lies another problem. Online meetings are also time-wasters. It turns out that there is technology failure in 32% of online meetings. Plus, even if the tech works, about 52% of the time is spent on setting up the technology and checking with everyone that it is working and then coping with delays and distractions. The average online meeting is 38 minutes long, but 21 of those minutes are spent on dealing with the technology. Worse still, it seems that many online meetings only lead to additional face-to-face meetings as not everyone could attend the webinar due to technical issues. The result is meeting repetition. Far from saving time, it seems that online meetings are just wasting more time. Is it any wonder that business productivity is falling?
There are, of course, several things you can do to ensure productive meetings. You know the drill. Only call a meeting when there is a clear objective. Have an agreed agenda that you stick to. Set an end time. Ensure that there are accepted action points which are produced. And so on. Do you do that?
Here’s why many meetings don’t do that. The agenda is set by someone who is often not at the meeting – a PA or a Virtual PA, for instance. Or the agenda is set by the person chairing the meeting who has different objectives to everyone else, so the agenda doesn’t suit them which is why they depart from it, seemingly wasting time. Another problem is recording minutes. Often these focus on the discussion, rather than the outcomes. And another issue is that we don’t like to set end times as it seems rude. My wife tells the story of her younger brother when he was small asking visiting relatives “what time are you going home?” the moment they had arrived for Sunday lunch. But all he was really doing was working out how long he got the company of his Auntie, for instance. It is socially unacceptable to ask people “when are you going home?” the second they are through your door. And the same is true for meetings with clients or suppliers, for instance. You don’t want to say to a new client “I’ll be with you at 2 pm and out of the building at 2.45”. Yet, that’s precisely what is needed for higher meeting efficiency.
Luckily, there are ways you can improve meetings using apps. One excellent app is “Meeting King“. This allows you to set up agreed agendas and time-frames in advance. Plus it enables people to do any “pre-meeting” work and confirm they have done it. The app also makes sure that action points are correctly attributed to each individual and given timescales. The app allows people to collaborate and ensure the meeting is fully productive. Lucid Meetings is another similar app as is Minute-it. You can also try Solid.
If you want subtle pressure on people than you can use Meeting Ticker to provide a constant reminder of the growing cost of the meeting you are attending.
The busier we all get, the more meetings we attend and the less productive we become. We are busy being busy. To reverse that within your business it is time to get a grip on meetings and make them work for your company, rather than for themselves.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+