So how are your virtual meetings going? Are they 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 tactical stuff you’ve been talking about for months? Are your meetings getting better or worse?

Kyoto, Japan - October 10, 2010: Stepping stones across a pond in a Zen temple garden.

Answer these five sample questions from the Strategic Meetings 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. You can take the full assessment and get your score at:

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 and some estimates are nearly doubling that number in the remote working environment. 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.”

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. Look at factors such as the types of meetings you attend, the frequency of meetings, and the length of meetings. Then 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. Examples of best practice principles include things such as “identify decisions to make in the meeting” and “create a virtual table of participants for teleconferences.” Use these best practices to compile a list of 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 100 different strategy tools you can choose from to help your team think and plan strategically. The key is to select 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 highly effective trigger 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?

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