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How to have productive meetings

How many hours do you spend in meetings every week?

Whether formal or informal, planned or impromptu, small or large, face-to-face or virtual, internal or with clients.

Meetings are fascinating if you think about it. If there’s too many on their calendar, people get frustrated – too few and people feel abandoned. Too short or too long and people feel it’s a waste of time. Too many participants and decisions don’t get made – too few and important input is not considered. Too easygoing and no progress is made – too strict and people don’t get a voice. Often people look for a good excuse to skip a meeting but if they don’t get invited in the first place they feel left out. And the challenges go on. Solving the enigma of productive meetings is not about “tactical fixes” like using agendas. It’s more about how to prepare for a meeting, how to facilitate it, what to do afterwards, whether to have a meeting in the first place.

Why do we need to get better at meetings? Here are some meeting stats that tell the story:

  • 65% of managers say meetings keep them from work and deep thinking.

  • 25% of meetings are spent discussing irrelevant issues.

  • About two-thirds of meetings run out of time before participants can make important decisions.

  • 90% of meeting attendees admit to daydreaming in them.

  • 73% of employees acknowledge they do other work during meetings.

  • Unsurprisingly perhaps, 85% of executives surveyed by Bain were dissatisfied with the efficiency and effectiveness of meetings at their companies.

And yet, according to Bain again, 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings. In financial terms, when you add up the salaries and hourly rates of team members who spend significant amounts of time sitting in unproductive meetings, the costs can be staggering. And these are only the direct costs of meetings...

The bottom line is clear: we need to find a remedy for the meeting madness.

Every minute spent in an unproductive meeting eats into time for deep work. Fragmented schedules disrupt concentration, compelling individuals to seek extra hours during early mornings, late evenings, or weekends. Moreover, dysfunctional meeting habits are linked with diminished market share, innovation, and employment stability.

But what’s the right remedy?

How we can improve meetings through co-creation

Addressing the root causes of bad meetings is organizational change. And what does behavioral science teach us about sustainable organizational change? We’re best off leveraging the power of co-creation: involving employees in the design process.

Co-creating circumvents the force of psychological reactance that we feel when someone is attempting to limit our choices. Co-creation also builds on our tendency to value and respect something more if we’ve built it ourselves. Co-creating productive meetings is an easy way to create unity and shared purpose within a company, motivating employees to do their best for the common goal.

Delivering a co-creation workshop using behavioral science

While co-creation might sound like an abstract buzzword, it’s as simple as setting up a one-time workshop for employees. A workshop that works on ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ of productive meetings.

Why - Articulating the need for change

Starting with "why" helps align the efforts of the team, motivating members to work together collaboratively toward the common goal. Moreover, when people know and connect with the deeper purpose behind their actions, they become inspired. In the case of meeting madness, the “why” encompasses both professional and personal reasons. Giving permission to employees to consider all these reasons, and not just the ones related to organizational performance, is what will make them pay attention.

How - Identifying particular causes

Most of the causes of unproductive meetings are behavioral in nature.

For example, the curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias where we incorrectly assume that everyone knows as much as we do on a given topic. When attending a meeting, we may think the purpose of a meeting is to get a firm grasp on what the core issue of a problem is, but someone else might think the purpose is to evaluate solutions, and another to brainstorm ideas. If the purpose of the meeting is not understood by everyone, progress is slow and frustrating.

What - Committing to actionable remedies

As employees learn about the relevant heuristics and biases, social norms and mental models that influence meetings, they start to think of actionable remedies for boosting their own behavior and structuring their own decision environments.

For employees, with employees

The best part about meetings is that they allow colleagues to be on the same page. Nowadays, there’s a general feeling of meeting misery among employees, feeling overburdened and resentful of having their time wasted. This is ripe ground, not for generic rules or mandates, but for co-creation.

By understanding the basics of behavioral science around meetings, employees can be effectively trained to co-design their own system of small habits, aimed at revamping their meetings in terms of better planning and execution, feedback and accountability.

Organizations that decide to go this way will acquire an accomplice – not just a passenger – in their fight against meeting madness.

If you're interested in having better meetings at work

👉Join us at Deloitte Academy for a virtual webinar
How to have productive meetings (28 November 2023)
To register, simply follow this link 
Remember to enter the coupon code: MM2023DT

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