Do You Know How to Reduce Meeting Waste?

by Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

When I first became an Industrial Engineer back in 1981, we had regular meetings in our company. However, that rate pales with the ‘meeting hours per day’ rate that exists in organizations today.  In my opinion, too many meetings occur in the workplace each day.  Plus, I think that a large percentage of these meetings are much less effective than they could be.  Do you know how to systematically reduce meeting waste?

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Do You Like to Attend Meetings?

Think about it. What is your reaction when you receive a meeting invite?  Do you look forward to the meeting date and time with anticipation and enthusiasm? Conversely, does the invitation invoke a series of bad, boring, or otherwise unproductive meeting memories (and feelings) from the past? Has work become nothing more than days after days of meetings?

It really pains me to think, let alone state, that we have too many meetings in our companies today.  For over forty years, I have been a passionate advocate for total employee engagement and participative management.  Meetings are a key vehicle that support daily work team engagement. Meetings help engage a higher percentage of your people in decision making. When effectively executed, meetings help align the daily efforts of the workforce with what is important to the organization.

Unfortunately, I feel that we have lost our focus about the PURPOSE of formal meetings. ALSO, not enough people know what a successful meeting experience should actually look, sound, and feel like. In short, today’s meetings contain too much time waste and are largely unproductive!

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How Much Meeting Waste Truly Exists?

Today’s technology enables more people to get together more frequently. Do we effectively use our capacity to meet via video or mobile?  We compromise the true value of face-to-face communication in favor of less effective approaches. These approaches help ensure that people have the chance to hear what they need to hear. However, they fail to ensure that people truly do hear the intended message.  For most people, meetings make up the majority of their work day.  In other words, organizations invest a lot of money EACH DAY in meetings.  Do you get what you pay for? To what degree does each meeting add value to the organization? What percentage of meeting time is waste?

If we could be (and felt comfortable being) honest about our opinions on meetings, I think we would find that most of us feel that meetings are often ineffective. Some might even say that meetings do more damage than good.  The mere fact that we may not feel comfortable about honestly stating our opinions on meeting effectiveness indicates an openness problem. Without openness, the destiny of a majority of our meetings is to fail.  How much time and money does your organization spend on meetings each day?  What percentage of this investment adds value?  How significant are your meeting waste streams?

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Key ‘How to Reduce Meeting Waste’ Questions

One would expect that meetings led by your organizational leaders are the most effective on average.  Is that the case in your company?  How do you analyze the way time is spent in your organization’s meetings? What percentage of that time investment adds value?  I regularly interface with a lot of people in many different organizations. Rarely do I meet folks that measure and trend meeting effectiveness over time.

  • Without regular data for this key work process with high resource demands, how can one improve it?
  • How much waste exists in your meetings?
  • What do your daily, weekly, and monthly meeting waste trends reflect?

In order to assess the degree to which a given meeting adds value, you have to first define clear goals for EACH meeting type.  To help you define such meeting goals, consider these questions:

  • Who are the customers of the meeting’s output?
  • What requirements do these customers expect the meeting process to meet or exceed?
  • How do you consistently identify the customers of your meetings and their key meeting requirements?
  • Does each team member view their meeting peers as customers of that gathering?
  • How often does the term ‘customer’ even enter into the meeting effectiveness discussion?

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How to Reduce Meeting Waste - Example Meeting Management DMAI Loop created by Kevin McManus, Great Systems LLC

What Does Meeting Waste Look Like?

From an idealist perspective, we should use meetings to create dialogue. Dialogue, versus discussion, leads to higher levels of understanding. Greater understanding translates into more effective problem solving, planning, and work systems improvement. In most cases, my meeting reality has unfortunately been quite different than this. Typically, I see people use too much meeting time to simply share information. Ideally, we read, or otherwise review, such information in the time between meetings.

Often, too many tangential discussions occur that result in meeting waste (lost time). Tangential, off-track discussions fail to focus on the customer requirements of the meeting.  I have experienced, and consistently hear about, too many meetings where the use of agendas is non-existent. In those cases where agenda use does occur, teams often fail to follow the agenda design.

  • How different are your meeting experiences?
  • How effectively do you plan and manage your regular meeting processes?
  • What is the monthly cost of your meeting waste?

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From Meeting Waste to True Dialogue and Relationship Building

Over the past two years, many more virtual meetings were held. In some cases, the virtual approach provides benefits. However, most would also agree that we have work to do before optimum ‘hybrid meeting’ designs are in use. Most people would agree that a significant portion of the message we communicate gets lost when we can’t observe body language or facial expressions. Plus, it is important to be able to ‘feel’ the room. Yet, we continue to gravitate towards communication approaches that discount the need for ‘in person’ communication.

I don’t want to sound like a technophobe here. I do want to define, in my own mind, when it is more effective to meet virtually versus ‘in person.’  We need quality human interaction to build strong relationships. Plus, strong team relationships are requisite for high performance.  How do our current meeting execution approaches help build, versus tear down, relationships?

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The possible solutions to help us break out of our meeting waste death spirals are not complicated to implement.  To start, define your key meeting types and the customers of those meetings. Second, clarify what those customers expect from a given type of meeting.  It is easy to measure your effectiveness in satisfying these expectations at the end of each meeting. Plus, each team should trend meeting waste and effectiveness over time to show improvement exists.  Finally, identify the common types of meeting defects that exist, and find the root causes of those defects. How much time do you invest in meetings each day? To what degree is the time investment required to make and adhere to these simple changes worth it?

Do You Need More Info on How to Reduce Meeting Waste?

In my work career, I have been fortunate to experience the power of true dialogue.  I can still recall meetings in my work life that I did enjoy. Conversely, I also believe teams can be great problem solvers and decision makers.  However, as an industrial engineer, the amount of time and money we waste in meetings each day around the world deeply affects me.  How much does it bother you to experience ineffective meetings?  Do you have a responsibility to help minimize meeting waste, or are you willing to just sit there and listen?  Ironically, only time will tell.

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Keep improving! – Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

Would you like more information about the tools and systems I have to help you stop meeting madness? If so, please send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com!

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