Meetings Matter, How to Make them Better

What adjectives would you use to describe business meetings?  Draining?  Wasteful?  Tiresome? 

Meetings are a common target of ridicule. Their uselessness is the one thing that everyone seems to agree on. Execs share eye roles in the hallway with folders and tablets tucked under their arms as they rush to get to the next meeting.  

But we’ve got it all wrong. 

Bain & Company found that in one organization, CEOs spent 7,000 hours a year in weekly meetings and their subordinates spent nearly 300,000 hours preparing for those meetings.  

So, is this a bad thing? 

Peter Drucker, the management guru, was not one to hold back his disdain for meetings.  There are several great Peter Drucker quotes such as: 

Meetings are, by definition, a concession to deficient organization. For one either meets or one works.

Peter Drucher

Let’s play this out a bit.  At its core, a meeting is people coming together to discuss something.  

There is a problem or information to be shared.  Therefore, the people who work together join up and discuss that problem or information. 

Imagine a team that doesn’t meet.  The team shows up at work and starts working.  

Great!  Productivity! 

Heads down is great until there is a problem to solve or a decision to make.  Things either grind to a halt, or the problem gets solved by one person, and no one else buys into the solution.  

The bigger problem is not even buy-in; it is productivity. 

Here is why: If you have a group of people working together but separately, total productivity can only equal the sum of the individual contributions.  However, the reason we come together as teams in the first place is to do more than the sum of our contributions.  The whole reason companies exist is for people to focus on their strengths while letting others focus on theirs.  Aligned focus makes the team’s individuals more efficient, and the team as a whole accomplishes more than the sum of the individual contributions. 

That is synergy. 

There are two requirements for this synergy to happen.  They are: 

  • Alignment.  The people within and throughout the company, those on your team, must be aligned to and buy-in to the vision, direction, and the work to be done.  Without alignment, there is no synergy.  
  • Sharing of challenges.  The whole point of working together is that some people are better at some things than others.  Therefore, working as a company means that multiple people will work on one problem.  So, they must share the problem and discuss the solutions.  This is where real synergy occurs since an amazing thing happens here: done right, people working together will come up with better solutions than individuals working apart. 

Alignment and sharing of challenges cannot take place in isolation.  

These require meetings.  

So rather than being a symptom of disfunction, meetings are the lifeblood of an organization

Without discussion, there is no company, no organization, no alignment, no synergy.  Everybody might as well be meeting on their own.  

Those 4.5 hours spent in meetings should be productive.  The 4.6 hours spent preparing for meetings are spent doing the work promised in the last meeting.  That time CEOs spend in meetings?  That is the role of the CEO.  The CEO should be talking to people, engaging, aligning, identifying issues and delegating tasks.  

That is the job.  

In the words of Patrick Lencioni:

Meetings are the linchpin of everything. If someone says you have an hour to investigate a company, I wouldn’t look at the balance sheet. I’d watch their executive team in a meeting for an hour. If they are clear and focused and have the board on the edge of their seats, I’d say this is a good company worth investing in.

Patrick Lencioni

The problem is not that we have meetings.  The problem is that we have bad meetings. 

Meetings are essential and can be very rewarding.  The problem is that mostly they suck. 

They are full of posturing and droning-on.  Attendees are either focused on escaping the meeting as quickly as possible or delighting in hearing the sound of their voice.  People avoid conflict and shy away from real discussion.  

All that prep time that should be dedicated to ticking off key deliverables goes to PowerPoint drivel and covering asses.  

The first part of the solution: structure

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Our 5-Star Meeting Agenda

Meetings should have some structure and require management.  People do not work well without guide rails, but when you set up some structure, you give the team freedom to move, deliberate, and decide.  

One of the most important meetings that every leadership team should conduct weekly is the weekly status update.  The leadership team should come together, 60-90 minutes a week, to discuss the company’s progress and identify hurdles.  This meeting accomplishes both tasks of alignment and bringing collective effort to solving problems.  

We have a defined agenda for that meeting here.

The second part of the solution: culture

One of the most insidious challenges in meetings is the elephant that sits in the room.  Nobody sees it, but everyone knows it is there.  

The problem is not that there is an elephant but instead that no one talks about it.  There may even be multiple elephants made up of all the unresolved issues, and challenges people bring into the meeting but don’t discuss. 

Typically, people run away from confrontation and try to get along. But in truth, the opposite strategy is the only way to make meetings useful.  Working together requires trust and the willingness to enter into conflict.  Without these, you might as well be sitting in individual cubicles, head down working on stuff – there would be no need to be part of a company. 

So, for your next leadership meeting, try this: 

Use our 5-star template to structure your meeting, take steps to build trust, and encourage conflict.  Let your team know that they are in a space is safe and address the elephants in the room.   

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