Have we become addicted to meetings?

  • Posted by: James Marshall
  • Category: Business, Success
Bored in meetings?

If you want to change a culture, change your meetings

“We don’t know how to stop” “I have given up hope that anything could be any different.” “We can handle it.”  

Sometimes when people talk about their meetings, they sound like addicts.

I wonder if post-lockdown meetings have quietly and firmly got out of control. I’m sure you attend well-chaired, short, productive meetings but many people I talk to, don’t. How much is the fact that many of us feel exhausted, frustrated and unproductive connected to the way we have meetings? As one senior pharma exec said to me recently “the amount of time I spend in meetings is proportional to the lack of time I spend with my children.”

The meeting death spiral

The truth is that meetings are burning us out so we don’t get our work done. This leads to frustration. Which means we turn up to meetings without the full extent of our executive functions. Which means we don’t build trust, listen or make good decisions. Which means we have to go to lots of meetings to make up for the mess we create!

Too simple perhaps, but there is a grain of truth in this.

So how have we become addicted to meetings? I think much of what we do is driven by unconscious assumptions, habits and beliefs that impact our ability to change how we behave in meetings. Assumptions like:

  • I’m so stressed and need to get things done, meetings will help me achieve my goals
  • This meeting is a waste of time but it’s just how this company works and I can’t change it.
  • I have been in successful meetings, this might be one of them
  • I fear missing out so I had better go to that meeting

The world has become more complex since the pandemic. In complexity you famously need to experiment and try new things. So many firms innovate when it comes to product and processes but where is the spirit of innovation when it comes to meeting culture? Maybe your meetings are a microcosm of your company culture and performance? Just think what we stand to benefit if you changed, in work:life balance, decision-making, relationships, innovation and, dare I say it, fun.

Talking Ape has been working with clients around meeting culture for 20 years. These are some of the things we suggest you try.

  1. Sit down as an organisation and set down some rules based upon the research. Better still ask your staff! Meetings are more productive if they are short, no more than 7 people, chaired by a facilitator, have a focused agenda and have present someone with decision rights. Why not structure a brilliant meeting to discuss what good meetings could look like!! Most of all experiment. Try new things and see what works.
  2. Decide whether you need to have that meeting. Have a conversation or, better still, spend time thinking about what the meeting was supposed to be trying to solve. Learn to say no. Explain you are not the right person to go or last time you didn’t find the meeting productive.
  3. Agendas are critical. Meetings without them are usually ineffective. Take time to think, focus and plan. What do you want to discuss or decide that will move us all forward? If you want to brainstorm free of an agenda, then great, go for it. But just let everyone know.
  4. Decision Rights. Many organisations will not allow a meeting to progress unless someone (leader, working group or a vote, etc) with the Decision Rights is present.
  5. Everyone needs to get better at the basic skill of listening, and not just talking. Build on people’s points rather than starting new ones. Call it out. Allow the more reflective to speak.
  6. Facilitators (chairs) are vital, so build that skill in your organisation. Someone to close down extroverts and open up introverts. Someone who does not mind conflict and can also put down boundaries. Someone who is skilled dealing with difficult people and asking honest questions. Imagine having that skillset in your organisation?
  7. Virtual meetings mean new rules. Never go longer than 5 minutes without giving the group another problem to solve or a chance to speak. Use breakout rooms. Ask provoking questions. Experiment with everyone being on a screen rather than a hybrid, with some in the meeting room and some on screen. It feels more inclusive.
  8. Occasionally meetings can be like workshops, with check-ins, no tables, fun, breaking into groups. They don’t always have to be people just talking.
  9. Innovate. 50 mins, stand-up meetings, Nancy Klein’s Time To Think, Amazon meeting culture, Meeting Free Friday. Experiment.
  10. Cut down on slides. MVP, Minimal Viable PowerPoint!!
Author: James Marshall