28 Oct 2018

Bad meetings: fight or flight?

According to Harvard Business Review, 71% meetings are unproductive and inefficient. Wow, that’s an alarming figure! Elon Musk responds: “It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

Sounds legit and appropriate. If you’re a world renowned billionaire. If not, walking out of a “waste of time” meeting is easier said than done.  

But can or should it be done? “Probably not the best move politically,” says Dr Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Bond University. “Try influencing the meeting instead.”

Good point. Not always possible, though. But we’ll return to that later. Dr Sander also suggests that you should simply avoid unnecessary meetings or ones that you know will go on for far too long. Another good point. And yet…

Clearly, the ability to say “no” to a meeting or walk out of one is a luxury not everyone can afford. At least not without certain repercussions.

That essentially gets rid of the “flight” option. How about fighting for a good meeting?

That’s the spirit!

“Almost no one is taught effective practices,” says Mamie Kanfer Stewart, author of Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging, and Enjoyable Meetings. “You’re expected to automatically know how to run a good meeting.” Whether you’re an entrepreneur leading a new startup, a boss of a well-established company or an employee in either, learning new tricks in this area can only be beneficial.

First, you have to know whether you’re approaching the organization of meetings correctly, and if not, are you looking in the right places for the cure. To recap, here are the main culprits:

  • A late start or late finish
  • Lack of structure or an agenda
  • Lack of concentration (likely due to the first two)
  • Inviting people who don’t need to be there
  • Poor preparation
  • An unnecessary meeting in the first place

The solution is to pay attention to 1. people, 2. processes, and 3. tools. Exactly in that order. And here is where Dr Sander’s advice on influencing meetings comes into play. Not influencing while it’s already happening, but a “preemptive strike” on planning meetings is most definitely in order.  

We have to keep our team in mind. Adapting to their needs is paramount. “I really don’t want to lock my employees into pointless status updates,” says Aytekin Tank, Founder and CEO of JotForm, “I want to empower them to do their very best work, and to enjoy the process.”

Therefore, an organization’s meeting strategy should include feedback from employees. Thinking that because they sacrifice their own time for meetings, executives often overlook the collective toll on productivity, focus, and engagement that comes from forcing others to break away from their work to attend. Avoid that trap at all costs!

This especially rings true in many modern businesses where solo work that involves deep thinking is critical. A survey by Harvard Business Review revealed that 13% of interviewees stated that poor scheduling disrupts this process in their organization.   

A similar problem can be detected when it comes to wasting group time. 16% of executives stated in the HBR survey that productivity and collaboration are weakened due to inefficiency. In larger companies in particular, hours and locations often changed at the last minute, so many people arrive unprepared or not at all.

Can you recognize the pattern?

The process of scheduling and planning meetings is more adaptable than you might think. Out-of-the-box recipes, like those practiced by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, who goes out for a walk with key or new team member or the simple task of including employees in the process of how, when and where meetings should take place, are tips worth taking.  

Now that we’ve presented a quick overview of the human factor, let’s see if there’s a tool out there that can help.

There is – Joan.

Remember the list of common culprits behind inefficient meetings listed above? Believe it or not, a smart scheduling system can split their numbers in twain.

Even if you fall victim to “calendar Tetris” and/or are worried about keeping people on track with what will be discussed at various meetings, how long these will take and where, devices like the Joan booking solution have been proven to boost meeting efficiency in a number of prominent organizations.

Interruptions, overbookings, hazy schedules – reducing these will give you time to focus on the important topics your team needs to hold meetings for.

Conclusion: Fleeing from bad meetings is as unproductive as bad meetings themselves. Make them shorter, make them organized and make them count!