5 Steps to Better Meetings


About Rich Horwath

Rich Horwath is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author on strategy. As the CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, Rich leads executive teams through the strategy process and has helped more than 50,000 managers around the world develop their strategic thinking skills. A former Chief Strategy Officer and professor of strategy at the graduate level, he brings both real-world experience and practical expertise to help companies build their strategic capabilities. 


Are your meetings creating valuable new insights for the business or are they a series of multitasking-filled monologues? Are they productive conversations about key business issues or a rehashing of the same stuff you’ve been talking about for months? Are your meetings getting better or worse?
 
As part of the pre-work for the “Leading Strategic Meetings” workshops I facilitate, managers complete a 20-question assessment to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Answer these five sample questions from the assessment for the meetings you typically attend:

  1. Relevant information is sent out prior to meetings to avoid one-way presentations during the meetings.  Yes  No
  2. Meetings start at their scheduled time.  Yes  No
  3. People are fully attentive and not engaged in multitasking (e.g., checking phones).  Yes  No
  4. People leave meetings with a clear understanding of who is doing what by when.  Yes  No
  5. I decline meeting invitations when the purpose and/or agenda have not been communicated.  Yes  No 

In this brief sample, a score of three or more “No’s” indicates an opportunity to dramatically improve the efficacy and productivity of your meetings.

A meeting can be defined as a gathering of two or more people featuring collective interaction and engagement using conversations to make progress toward a purpose. Note the use of the words “interaction” and “conversations” in the definition. If you find yourself in meetings and especially teleconferences on a regular basis where the format is primarily one-way presentation, there’s ample opportunity to improve your situation.
 
Research shows that meetings consume about 40 percent of working time for managers. Key data points from research to consider:

  • Up to half of the content of meetings is either not relevant to participants or could be delivered outside of a meeting.
  • 20 percent of meeting participants should not be there.
  • 40 percent of meeting time is spent on information that could be delivered before the meeting.
  • 50 percent of meetings executives attend are rated as “ineffective” or “very ineffective.”

The potential money you can save by running more effective meetings is startling. Let’s take an example using the fictitious company Technobody, featured in the new strategy book, StrategyMan vs. The Anti-Strategy Squad: Using Strategic Thinking to Defeat Bad Strategy and Save Your Plan. The company has 166 managers. If the average managerial salary is $80,000 (an industry average based on Glassdoor data) and 40 percent of their time is spent in meetings, then roughly $32,000 per manager is spent on meetings during the year. If 50 percent of meeting content is not relevant and ineffective (according to research), then $16,000 (50% x $32K) is wasted per manager each year in bad meetings. If we then multiply $16K in waste per manager by 166 managers, we see that a conservative estimate of wasted meeting cost for Technobody is $2.65 million per year. This number does not even include the prep time for meetings or the wasted meeting time of the 900+ independent contributors that report to these managers. You can use the process described above with the number of managers in your group and average salary to see just how much bad meetings are costing your team.

There are five steps you can follow to help your organization take a more strategic approach to meetings and teleconferences:

1. Conduct a meetings audit. Before a doctor prescribes a medication, she first diagnoses the patient’s condition. In the same spirit, before you prescribe new meeting guidelines, it’s helpful to first baseline what’s happening today. When I conduct a meetings audit, I look at factors such as the types of meetings, frequency, length, etc. We also identify the reasons these meetings exist and if there are any meetings that are not necessary. Once the audit is complete, it provides a bounty of useful information to shape the future state of meetings.

2. Identify current meeting mistakes. Meeting mistakes occur in three phases: pre-meeting, in-meeting and post-meeting. They can also be categorized as either leader or participant mistakes. For example, a common in-meeting mistake by the leader is failing to reign in off-track conversations. A common in-meeting mistake by participants is multitasking, which conveys a lack of interest in the topic and/or a lack of respect for the person speaking at the time. There are approximately twenty-five mistakes to look for in the three phases to ensure that the group is not sabotaging their own efforts at improvement.

3. Educate managers on what good looks like. Begin this step by collecting the current best practices being used by managers within the organization. Then look externally to see what principles and guidelines are being used by other organizations within and outside your industry as it relates to meetings. I’ve built a library of these best practices over the years and including things such as “identify decisions to make in the meeting” and “create a virtual table of participants for teleconferences” will help create your new meeting standards.

4. Utilize meeting tools: One of the keys to leading effective and efficient meetings is aligning the goals of the meeting with the appropriate tools and processes to get there. For instance, if you’re leading a strategy development meeting, there are more than 70 different strategic thinking tools you can choose from to help your team think and plan strategically. The key is selecting the handful of tools that make the most sense based on the context of the team, business goals, competitive landscape, etc. Be clear on your meeting goals and then choose the process and tools to get there.

5. Develop meeting checklists. Research in the social sciences on habits shows that in order to effectively change people’s behaviors, it’s helpful to provide physical or environmental triggers. One such trigger I’ve found to be highly effective is the use of meeting checklists. These physical reminders ensure that teams across the organization are aware of the basic meeting principles, techniques, and tools to optimize their meeting time. However, the checklists are only valuable if they are accompanied by the corresponding discipline to utilize them on a consistent basis.

Effective meetings can be energizing forums to help your team set direction, make decisions, and unify efforts. Ineffective meetings can be anchors that weigh people down with irrelevant information, didactic presentations, and unclear priorities. Which type do you attend today? Do you think it will be different tomorrow?

To Learn more about Rich contact [email protected]

Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency. www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]