Too Many Bad MeetingsIs your organization meeting itself to death? Do you often feel like you are in the midst of a meeting frenzy? Do you sometimes want to poke yourself with a sharp object to keep from screaming when a meeting drags on and on? How do your meeting participants feel?

Meeting research shows that executive time spent in meetings has increased from 10 hours a week to nearly 23 hours over the past fifty years. This reflects the collaborative approaches of today’s more complex world and matrixed organizations.

Meetings can energize or enervate. When meetings are effectively run, they create that elusive synergy that dramatically boosts a team’s effectiveness.

But way too many meetings waste time, zap energy, and reduce the collective IQ (and EQ) of a group of very bright and effective individuals to the stuff of cartoons. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Stop the Meeting Madness,” in a survey of 182 managers across a range of industries, 65% reported “meetings keep them from completing their own work” and 71% said “meetings are unproductive and inefficient.”

The only explanation is ignorance.  Leaders just don’t know any better, or they would make sweeping changes. Many leaders blithely accept the wasted time and energy that are allowed to pass for meetings. If leaders were allowed to waste money the way they waste meeting time, heads would roll. The Meeting Madness survey reported that 54% of managers suffered “a triple whammy of meetings that are (1) too frequent, (2) poorly timed, and (3) badly run, leading to losses in productivity, collaboration, and well-being for both groups and individuals.” Sound familiar?

Meeting Misery or Mastery Depends on the Leader

Sometimes a meeting of six people is really a meeting of three people with three spectators.  So why are they all there?  If they all had something to contribute, the leader should have drawn it from them, but didn’t. If three didn’t need to be there, why waste their time?

If not well managed, conflict can quickly wrench a team apart. Whether conflict helps or hinders the team depends largely on the meeting leader’s skills. Getting a group of diverse people with conflicting interests and varied backgrounds to pull together is a big part of what team leadership skills are all about.

As poorly run meetings sputter to a close with people distracted by their screens and rushing out to other meetings, team leaders often leave groups hanging.  Consensus, commitment, and even action are left in a state of suspended animation. Team members wander out unclear what’s to happen next.

Effective meeting leaders are strong facilitators. When the meeting leader is the boss, there’s a delicate balancing act between facilitating the group discussion and unwittingly issuing management directives. If, for example, the boss presents his or her opinions early in the discussion, healthy debate is often curtailed, options are narrowed, “moose-on-the-table” (touchy issues) will be avoided, participants who disagree will sit on their hands, and the boss’s view will prevail.

Meetings Are a Microcosm of Your Culture

The Spanish novelist and dramatist, Cervantes, wrote, “By a small sample we may judge of the whole piece.”  Meetings are a small slice of the leader’s mini‑culture. Taken together, an organization’s meetings paint a picture of the whole culture.

Take a look at your meetings. What do they say about meeting leadership and culture? Who attends them? How do you split the airtime within the group?  How much diversity is encouraged? How is conflict handled?  What process do you use for problem solving? Do you draw contributions from the whole group?

Is your team or organization over meeting? Are you suffering from meeting indigestion?

Next week’s blog will outline steps to healthy meetings.