Meetings dominate the way in which we do business today. In fact, approximately
11 million meetings occur in the U.S. each and every day.1
many of us complain about meetings, we can all expect to spend our careers deeply
immersed in them. Most professionals attend a total of 61.8 meetings per month2
and research indicates that over 50 percent of this meeting time is wasted.3
Assuming each of these meetings is one hour long, professionals lose 31 hours
per month in unproductive meetings, or approximately four work days. Considering
these statistics, it's no surprise that meetings have such a bad reputation.
Why Do Meetings Have a Bad Reputation?
How Are Unproductive Meetings Affecting Us?
Most professionals who meet on a regular basis admit to daydreaming
(91%), missing meetings (96%) or missing parts of meetings (95%). A large percentage
(73%) say they have brought other work to meetings and 39% say they have dozed
during meetings.4 One might
be tempted to snicker at these statistics
but have you seriously considered
how these inefficiencies affect you and your organization?
the Situation Become So Serious?
Although there is a general consensus among professionals today
that meetings could be more productive, very few seem willing to make
a commitment to improve them. There are many reasons for this lack of
||most individuals have never experienced or
witnessed the power of a truly effective meeting and, therefore, don't
recognize the importance of having better meetings
||for many, it may seem more "convenient"
to continue current meeting practices, regardless of how inefficient they
||many teams don't have access to the kind of
effective meeting information they need to improve their meetings
||most employees feel there's hardly enough time
in a day to complete basic tasks. Who has the time or energy to commit
to improving meetings?
||managers, in general, fail to consider the
negative impact meetings have on the organization's bottom line
What's the Outlook?
Meeting frequency is actually increasing and today's professionals
are attending more and more meetings. Forty-six percent of respondents to a
recent MCI survey reported they attend more meetings today than they did one
year ago.5 With business moving faster than ever, meetings are how
we stay informed. Considering the amount of time we're spending, and will continue
to spend in meetings, it's evident we need to take control of our meetings...
What Can Be Done to Improve Meetings?
A. Learn and Communicate the Basics
The first step to improving meetings is to start with the basics,
which means training everyone in the organization about effective meetings.
Because meetings are such an integral part of business, everyone in the organization
should understand the fundamentals of an effective meeting and how to achieve
their goals each and every time they meet. Giving employees access to meeting
information helps them understand the effect of unproductive meetings on their
work lives and gives them the power to improve unproductive meeting situations.
Intel Corporation is an example of an organization that takes its meetings
very seriously. Walk into any conference room at any Intel factory or office
anywhere in the world and you will see a poster on the wall with a series of
simple questions about the meetings that take place there: Do you know the
purpose of this meeting? Do you have an agenda? Do you know your role? Every
new employee, from the most junior production worker to the highest ranking
executive, is required to take the company's course on effective meetings. For
years, the course was taught by CEO Andy Grove, who believed that good meetings
were such an important part of Intel's culture that it was worth his time to
train all employees. "In our training program, we talk a lot about meeting
discipline," says Michael Fors, corporate training manager at Intel University.
"It isn't complicated. It's doing the basics well: structured agendas,
clear goals, paths that you're going to follow. These things make a huge difference."6
B. Apply Effective Meeting
Once everyone in the organization understands the importance of improving
meeting effectiveness and has learned the appropriate techniques, incentives
must be created to motivate employees to apply what they've learned. Support
of management or group leaders will also assist in the implementation and commitment
to new meeting methods. When the group as a whole is committed to improving
the situation, then a behavioral norm is created. If new behaviors are expected
and consistently reinforced over time, individuals will attempt to achieve and
follow the norms.
C. Implement Technological
Tools to Make Meeting Easier
i. In the Meeting
The emphasis on teamwork in today's workplace has created a movement
towards implementing collaborative technology in the meeting room. This technology
includes computers, LCD projectors and interactive whiteboards. Employing these
technologies will allow meeting participants to access computer-based information,
share data and automatically save information generated during their meetings
all functionality for enhanced group collaboration.
ii. At the Desktop
Like other areas of business, technology is helping make meetings easier
and more efficient. In many organizations today, e-mail is being used as a quick
and easy method of communicating information internally without the need for
meeting. In fact, eighty-two percent of executives share meeting notes with
colleagues 77 percent of them by e-mail. However, even with the help
of e-mail to communicate, 45"% of executives still feel overwhelmed by
the number of meetings they attend.7 This indicates that technology
is helping today's meeting dilemma, but not entirely solving it.
iii. At a Distance
organizations are adopting videoconferencing to communicate across distances.
In 1996, manufacturers shipped approximately 300,000 systems and in the following
year nearly 1.4 million copies of videoconferencing software were loaded onto
PCs across America.9 Given
the need for fast communication in today's workplace, the need to communicate
over distances and the increase in the number of meetings we must attend, most
organizations will likely implement videoconferencing as a common meeting practice
in the future.
Glen Miller, the director of worldwide video and satellite communications for
Pharmacia & Upjohn, has installed enterprise-wide videoconferencing equipment
and witnessed the benefits of this technology. "The ability to interact
with others remotely produces huge corporate benefits," says Miller. "Last
year, for example, videoconferencing slashed more than $6 million in direct
travel expenses for Pharmacia & Upjohn. It also freed up about two thousand
workdays that managers and executives used to spend in transit. Videoconferencing
has been our global productivity tool for the 90s."9
The need to improve our meetings is evident. Now the challenge is to communicate,
learn and commit to the techniques and technology that will improve our meetings.
A quote from George David Kieffer's book, The Strategy of Meetings, summarizes
the impact meetings have on organizations today and how seriously meetings should
be considered now and in the future.
"I decided to talk with
some of America's most successful and respected leaders in business, labor,
industry, education and government many of whom are viewed as masters
in the art of conducting meetings to gain their insights into the subject.
In speaking with over fifty of those leaders, two central points emerged. Number
one, the skill to manage a meeting to develop ideas, to motivate people
and to move people and ideas to positive action is perhaps the most critical
asset in any career. And number two, most professionals have had no real training
in devising and managing an effective meeting; in fact, most professionals do
not recognize the enormous impact their meetings have on their organizations
and their careers."10
1. A network MCI Conferencing White Paper. Meetings
in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing,
and their impact on productivity (Greenwich, CT: INFOCOMM, 1998), 3.
3. Robert B. Nelson and Peter Economy, Better Business Meetings (Burr
Ridge, IL: Irwin Inc, 1995), 5.
4. A network MCI Conferencing White Paper, Meetings in America: A study of
trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their
impact on productivity (Greenwich, CT: INFOCOMM, 1998), 10.
5. Ibid., 8.
6. Eric Matson, "The Seven Sins of Deadly Meetings," in Fast Company,
par. 11-13 [online magazine] (1996 [cited 14 April 1999]); available from World
Wide Web at http://www.fastcompany.com/online/02/meetings.html
7. Pen Computing Group, 1998
8. Sam Greengard, "Videoconferencing: Making the Right Connections,"
in Beyond Computing, par. 21 [online magazine] (1997 [cited 14 April
1999]); available from World Wide Web at http://www.beyondcomputingmag.com/archive/1997/11%2D97/connect.html
9. Ibid., par. 15.
10. George David Kieffer, The Strategy of Meetings (New York, NY: Simon
& Schuster, 1988), 13.