Recently, an Associated Press article reported on a study suggesting that company staff meetings may "rank among the most inefficient exercises we perform." The study, conducted for GroupSystems Corp., included 130 responses from workers in organizations ranging from Intel to the U.S. Navy to George Washington University.
If you attend regular staff meetings at work, you might not be surprised that most respondents in this study found these meetings to often be too long, too poorly organized, and too unproductive, rarely resulting in implemented action items.
Many of us attend a lot of meetings. In fact, approximately 11 million meetings occur in the U.S. each day, and most managers attend about 60 meetings each month. That’s a lot of meetings, especially if many of them are not very valuable.
A meeting — for the purposes of this article — occurs anytime two or more people come together for a scheduled interaction and a specific (if not stated) purpose. Here are some of the common types of meetings:
You probably conduct or participate in one-on-one meetings with your manager and/or your direct reports (in performance reviews, coaching sessions, career development discussions, and so on). These meetings allow for private and confidential discussions and allow you and the other person to build familiarity. These meetings can be challenging if you are poorly prepared.
Managers frequently attend these types of meetings, and most staff meetings are attended by a small group of "staffers." Three to 15 or 20 participants come together to share new information, solve problems, review project status, recognize and celebrate accomplishments, train new skills, and so on. A common complaint is that these meetings are poorly run and unproductive, as I've mentioned.
You sometimes get together with 20 or more people, in a training class, department meetings, recognition gatherings, and so on. These meetings typically involve the least amount of two-way interaction between the meeting leader and participants. Nonetheless, they need to be led effectively like any other meeting.
Virtual meetings (teleconference, videoconference, or Web conference):
Phone, video, and/or the Web sometimes connect all or some meeting participants. Participants are "in the room" but physically separated by sometimes thousands of miles. This distance can increase the challenges of running an efficient and productive meeting.
To Meet or Not to Meet
Below, we have listed types of information commonly delivered at work. Ask yourself whether these require a ‘Meeting’ or ‘No Meeting’ (in which another method of delivery, if available, may be more effective).
Announce a small procedure change.
• (No Meeting – Meetings are less effective when one-way information is shared. Typically, announcements are one-way and can be delivered by e-mail, bulletin board, etc. This might change if the announcement is likely to raise questions or require persuasion or dialogue.)
Brainstorm the solution of a problem.
• (Meeting – Meetings are more effective when two-way dialogue is needed. Typically, meetings are a great way to generate ideas and solve problems. People have diverse perspectives and experiences that often spark creative solutions. These meetings might be more effective if you inform participants of the problem beforehand so they can bring ideas.)
Review the progress of a team project.
• (Meeting – Meetings are more effective when a close familiarity and working relationship needs to be built between team members. Project teams often need face-to-face communication to discuss barriers, accomplishments, and adjust plans.)
Provide negative performance feedback to a direct report.
• (Meeting – Meetings are more effective when you need to discuss sensitive information with someone. We often make the mistake of avoiding face-to-face encounters when delivering negative information or dealing with conflict. These meetings should be two-way dialogues conducted in private.)
Have several people review and respond to a proposal you’ve written.
• (No Meeting – Meetings are less effective when reviewing written materials, such as reports or proposals, unless you want to bring people together to discuss feedback once it has all been gathered and assessed.)
Set a direct report’s performance goals.
• (Meeting – Meetings are more effective when managers need to include direct reports in decision making and a development plan. Managers often make the mistake of not involving direct reports in the goal-setting process. Managers should meet one-on-one with direct reports when they want to reinforce buy-in and commitment.)
Meetings are most effective when used to share two-way information, make decisions, and strengthen relationships:
1. Share two-way information — You might meet with other people to instruct, advise, update, and persuade.
2. Make decisions — You might meet with other people to come to consensus, weigh options, generate ideas, resolve issues, create plans, and assign roles.
3. Strengthen relationships — You might meet with other people to get to know one another, build trust, create understanding, and promote a sense of belonging.
Although regular staff meetings can have value, meeting for the sake of meeting is seldom a good use of time, and if a meeting is needed, make sure it is well organized and productive.
Dave Neal may be contacted at http://www.4thstreettraining.com
Dave Neal has helped develop thousands of employees and managers in organizations around the world for over 15 years. He is a senior partner at 4th Street Training. Web: www.4thstreettraining.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.