The State of Meetings Today

In a word: dysfunctional. Research shows that over 11 million meetings occur in the U.S. each day, with most people believing up to 50% of their time spent in meetings is wasted. Yet our 25 years of working with thousands of organizations indicate the amount of wasted time is much higher. How about you?

What percentage of the time you spend in meetings is actually productive, customer focused, and action oriented? If it’s not 100%, there is room for improvement.

Many factors contribute to dull, ineffective meetings—including politics, personalities, and power plays. Structure, process (or lack thereof), egos, trust (or lack thereof), and behaviors all play a part as well. And one of the biggest contributors is role-specific advocacy. People are concerned only about their own role, department, division, or problem. “If it doesn’t directly affect my job, I’m not interested.”

People sit in meetings all day long and believe that if it’s not their meeting, if the discussion isn’t directly related to them, then it’s not their problem. “Good luck with that,” “Let me know how it turns out,” “Wake me up when you want to talk about my department.” But this disconnect—contributing only when you are directly affected or benefitted—means you’re leaving a tremendous amount of your intellect on the sidelines. And if everybody else is doing the same thing, meetings are fragmented, self-serving, political, ineffective, and dysfunctional.

Another big contributor is the lack of a shared problem-solving process. Here’s a quick quiz to gauge how well your process works.

  • Do you discuss a large percentage of issues that were discussed in previous meetings?
  • Do your discussions seem to go around in circles with no apparent end?
  • Does it seem you have to schedule meeting after meeting after meeting to address a single problem?
  • Do certain personalities dominate the meetings?
  • Do few conclusions or actions come out of the meetings?
  • Are the meetings boring, dull, and painful to attend?
  • Is there a lack of dialog, brainstorming, and customer advocacy?

If you answered yes to 3 or more of these questions, chances are good that you lack process or the process you do have isn’t working.

Meetings in most organizations today are a direct reflection of the culture.

If meetings are functional, effective, focused on the customer, and built on democratic problem solving, engagement is typically high and the company is usually a market leader. If meetings are flat, lack engagement and problem solving, and are internally focused, the company is far from reaching its true potential.

Among the numerous differing definitions of organization culture floating around, the best is the sum of behaviors that people demonstrate. Period. It’s not magical. It’s not mystical. It’s simply the behaviors that people choose to demonstrate, are expected to demonstrate, are allowed to demonstrate, and are rewarded to demonstrate. Today’s meetings are rife with dysfunctional, political, turf protecting, internally focused behaviors. So to change a culture of dysfunctional meetings . . . start by changing the behaviors.

The next article in this series will define the “should be” of New Reality meetings. In the meantime:

  • Replace role-specific advocacy with customer-focused advocacy
  • Install a process that democratizes the problem solving
  • Change the culture of meetings by changing the behaviors that are expected, allowed, and rewarded.

Karl can help your organization transform meetings from a drag on productivity to a driver of progress. Learn more.

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