(Last updated on: 10/12/2020)
I am writing this post today because I am frustrated. I am frustrated of tick box exercises. I am frustrated of meetings for meetings’ sake. I am frustrated of other people wasting my time. I have come to realise over the years that in reality most meetings can be avoided. In fact, most meetings are an ineffective use of everybody’s time.
In the past month alone I have spent in excess of ten solid hours in meetings. Meetings during which the majority of the content was irrelevant to me. Meetings during which I had zero input-ZERO. Why was I there? Well that really is the million Dollar question.
This post is largely inspired by a book that I recently read called the 4 hour work week. In this book Tim gives some excellent advice and practical tips on time management, many of which I have been using for some time, including during my PhD research (which I completed part-time in three years, by the way). One aspect that is particularly bothering me though is meetings- Tim talks at length about why they are unnecessary and how to eliminate them and be more productive in the workplace and I 110% agree with his sentiment here. This is, sadly, not something that I have any control over in my current workplace.
Here is my advice to the ‘meeting holder’ from the ‘meeting attendee’ on how to increase productivity in your workplace.
Meetings in an inter-connected world
Meetings are sometimes necessary. Sometimes group input is required. Reflective sessions or brainstorming activities can lend themselves to meetings. There are indeed times when a simple conversation will solve a problem faster than a chain of e-mails.
But lets face it, the world of business is changing and we need to change with it. We live in an increasingly inter-connected society enabling us to communicate, despite being in completely different localities.
The likes of group chat facilities, online forums and video conferencing have changed the way that we work. We no longer need to spend hours commuting to the office or hundreds of Pounds on office furniture. We can work from the comfort of our own home and be there to cook the kids’ dinner when they get in from school.
So why do businesses still feel the need to make employees travel to a common space to share ideas or to have speakers present to them? It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, it is true that in most instances, e-mail or an e-meeting is more than sufficient. And in many cases this is indeed the best business approach.
The ultimate goal of most organisations is to make money. This has direct correlations with two key areas: staff morale and productivity, both of which can be impacted by poorly organised meetings. I will explain.
The effect of meetings on staff moral
Meetings can go either way in terms of staff morale. I have seen staff dissatisfied with their working environment because they do not feel empowered. This can be either due to a lack of meetings per se or it can be down to poorly structured meetings. Too many people take the ‘presenter-listener’ approach at meetings. In fact, if you Google the definition of the term meeting you will be provided with endless quotes about the bringing together of a group of people to facilitate discussion. The problem arises when the discussion element is missing and the meeting in reality becomes a one-way presentation. This is, in actual fact, not a meeting at all.
If staff feel that their time is not being utilised effectively then this is likely to cause a decline in morale. And poor morale spreads through the workplace like wildfire. Negativity and poor morale frequently results in a lack of job satisfaction. From here the slope is slippery- low productivity, poor results, increased staff turnover, recruitment and training costs incurred. Wow, who knew all of this could stem from a poorly organised meeting?
The effect of meetings on productivity
Staff need to see the value in meetings. If there are large parts of the meeting that are not relevant to that particular staff member then they will feel frustrated. It is also a monumental waste of their time. All too often I feel that meetings are organised as a result of process, whereby the organiser feels that it is necessary to hold a meeting to tick a box, to tell those above them that they did their job properly, to provide evidence that the message has been relayed. This I feel is a sad reality, warranting the reconsideration of management.
Remember I told you that I have spent over ten hours this past month in meetings? Imagine what I could have done during this time… and then multiply this by every staff member that was in attendance! Wow, this is potentially a lot of hours that could have been better spent elsewhere. Like I said, if the meeting is necessary then great. But if the points can be written in an e-mail or circulated via a memo then scrap them, the output will be far greater- I promise you.
Turning a meeting agenda into actions
Personally, I enjoy meetings that are productive. Whether you are a manager or otherwise, it is important to know what the aims and objectives are and how this affect the business. It is also important to understand why these issues justify a meeting being called.
Did your workplace change a process? Produce a flowchart or a document and send it to all staff. Want to make sure that the staff have taken onboard the new process? Include a response task (this could be a written response, a quiz or an exercise, for example). Feel that words won’t do it justice? Send around a video presentation or online training module that employees can do in their own time.
Does your workplace want to amend an existing process but isn’t sure how? Now this may warrant a meeting! In the above example it is a simple information-giving process. No need to exert the energy of multiple colleagues commuting to the office to be briefed in person when they could receive this information through alternative means, freeing them up more time to work on other areas. But if the issue is consultation-based then a meeting may well be necessary. Do you need to organise which staff will take on which role? Do you want to decipher a group plan? Do you want to hear individuals’ experiences in this area? Whilst there are different methods that this can be done, a meeting may be an excellent solution.
Ultimately, if the goal is to simply relay information (ESPECIALLY if not all information is relevant to all people involved) then a meeting is not the answer. Meetings are supposed to be integrative and communicative, encouraging group input and discussion. If colleagues can see what the intention of the meeting is and how this fits within the wider business model and their job role then they are far more likely to actively participate and to contribute to the success of the meeting.
If you haven’t already done so, I strongly recommend that you Tim’s text on the 4 hour work week, I promise you- you will never look at another meeting in the same light!