Every business requires the juggling of a myriad of processes and procedures, but managing meetings is often an overlooked necessity. Frequent meetings tend to be a cornerstone of business life, but in too many instances, they can be too frequent, have little substance and waste too much time.
The Meetings Will Continue Until Morale Improves
Meetings are an unavoidable facet of any business. Even if your company consists of just two people, you will find that meeting to discuss issues, decisions and future actions are a necessity. However, the underlying problem for far too many organizations is that their meeting structures tend to develop organically and by default.
In other words, meeting structure and process is usually determined by habits and the preferences of a few individuals without much thought to necessity and efficiency. Numerous surveys of employees and their managers repeatedly list meetings as a top frustration.
For example, research shows that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years. In fact, it is estimated that executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in meetings today, but only spent about 10 hours in meetings during the 1960s.
And those 23 hours do not take into account random "hall meetings", long conference calls and other unplanned meetings that were not scheduled.
Signs of Dysfunctional Business Meetings
While this list is not exhaustive, these are the more common features of typical business meetings:
- Starting late
- No clear agenda
- No meeting chair or moderator
- Too many topics
- Often going "off topic"
- Going overtime
- Irrelevant topics for too many attendees
In addition to these common meeting faux pas it is also typical that most meetings are boring and too many are probably unessential. However, part of the problem with the continuation of this meeting culture is that who dread meetings the most also defend them as a “necessary evil.”
Harvard Business Review notes that,
"To be sure, meetings are essential for enabling collaboration, creativity, and innovation. They often foster relationships and ensure proper information exchange. They provide real benefits. But why would anyone argue in defense of excessive meetings, especially when no one likes them much?
Because executives want to be good soldiers. When they sacrifice their own time and well-being for meetings, they assume they’re doing what’s best for the business—and they don’t see the costs to the organization. They overlook the collective toll on productivity, focus, and engagement."
The problem is that every minute spent in an unnecessary meeting is time that is not spent doing regular work that’s required to maintain and further the function of the business. In addition, any “deep work” - a term that describes the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task - is continually interrupted by meetings.
On top of all this, it results in an increasing number of executives coming to work early, staying late, or working on weekends.
Quick Tips for Better Meeting Management
Start on time
This is the bane of so many organizations and, yes, changing this may be a major undertaking. But persistence and insistence by management will bring about this productive shift in the meeting culture of your business meeting.
Delegate leadership for the meeting
Someone needs to be in charge. And that someone does not need be a manager or executive. In fact, assigning a line-level employee the role of meeting moderator can avoid the tendency of C-Level and management types to unwittingly ignore time limits and agenda items, etc. Meetings should be egalitarian in that respect.
Stick to the agenda
Drifting off-topic or spontaneously adding meeting items not only inflates the time required for a meeting, but threatens to overwhelm the stated purpose of a meeting. When a relevant topic comes up in the normal course of a meeting it should be noted and assigned to a future agenda or a separate meeting.
Decide and who’s going to do what and by when
Too many meetings are filled with many good things said, great ideas generated, and productive tasks suggested. Unfortunately, too many meetings end with vague accountability and nothing much seems to happen as a result.
To avoid this typical meeting fate, the meeting moderator can record which individuals have been assigned with a task, what the task is, and when it is expected to be accomplished. These tasks should then be put on the appropriate calendar(s).
Distribute minutes within 24 hours
This is more than a point of meeting procedure. Having a copy of the minutes shortly after the meeting provides every attendee with a record that can be easily referenced and provides clarity as to what was discussed and any tasks assigned, etc.
There are far more deeper-level "best practices" that can be implemented, many of which can be found here.
The good news is that your meetings can actually result in productive outcomes. These can then function to initiate and maintain projects and keep employees and managers efficiently engaged. However, because of the inherent difficulty in generating momentum in the face of bureaucratic inertia, persistence, diligence and "top-down" support will be required.
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