Everyone knows there are problems with meetings. There are unneeded meetings, meetings that are run badly, that don’t stick to an agenda, that don’t generate decisions. In all we looked at 20 common meeting problems. Overall, we spend about 15% of our time in meetings each week.
Meetings are a social holdover from the industrial revolution, where a meeting was needed to communicate information to each successive layer of management. However, with today’s technologies, task status, resources, etc. can all be tracked in real time online, eliminating the need for many status meetings. Better tools are also available to not only make sure everyone gets a clear meeting agenda, but that better decisions can be made faster, and without having meetings to rehash old or no decisions. Integration with online task and project management tools can help provide feedback to the meeting about the outcomes of their decisions and assignments.
One of the biggest issues with meetings is not about technology (which is only an enabler for distributed meetings) but about people’s behavior. If we follow the Peter Drucker maxim that “what can’t be measured … can’t be managed” the question then becomes how do we measure people’s behavior in meetings? We looked at the common metrics people use today for meetings: duration, # of people, frequency, etc. and realized that these metrics are metadata about the meeting itself, but not about meeting behavior, content or outcomes. Furthermore, only 40% of those surveyed used these metrics.
It is our thesis that one of the ways to make meetings better is to have people exhibit better meeting behaviors. You can try to teach these in advance of the meetings, but that strategy has not worked so well, in that today we still have lots of problematic meetings. Our hypothesis is that if you can give people realtime feedback (metrics) about their behavior in meetings, that they will be able to change their behavior for the better… benefiting everyone in the meeting.
When we asked what would make meetings better? The top three answers we got were: follow a pre-set agenda, make more and better decisions, and have better speakers and content. We then made up some potential behavioral metrics for meetings and asked respondents to rank them:
- Overall meeting value
- Number of decisions
- The amount of time people was paying attention
These are not easy metrics to develop, but I believe that a dashboard of these and other metrics (level of trust, what effect did tasks and decisions from meetings have, or the number of tasks a meeting generated) if shown in real time in the meeting where everyone could see them could provide critical feedback to help meeting behavior and overall meeting value and productivity
There are good technologies out there to help make meetings more productive (Powernoodle, Facilitate.com, Meetin.gs), but I believe the greatest productivity gain (20%) can be from dropping unneeded meetings. Many meetings are often politically motivated, they can be a show of power or ego (see I can get all of these people in one room to hear what I have to say), but these immature behaviors have a huge impact on productivity. With organizations becoming more distributed, if you insist on everyone’s attendance, some participants may be participating in the middle of the night.