Why Do Meetings Have a Bad Reputation?
 
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 Although 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.

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?

Some direct effects of unproductive meetings include:
meetings are longer, less efficient and generate fewer results
more meetings are needed to accomplish objectives
with so much time spent in ineffective meetings, employees have less time to get their own work done
ineffective meetings create frustration at all staff levels
information generated in unproductive meetings usually isn't managed properly

inefficient meetings cost organizations billions of dollars each year in otherwise productive employee work time

How Did 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 commitment:
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 may be
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... now.

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 Techniques
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
Many 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

Conclusion
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.
2. Ibid.
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.


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