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5 Ways Your Meeting Culture is Killing Productivity

Patrick Ball on April 16, 2015 05:51 PM

You know those studies that say letting employees work from home makes them happier, more productive and less likely to quit their jobs? That’s just a nice way of saying we are our own worst enemies.

Think about it: In a given workday, how many different ways do we sabotage ourselves and hamper productivity?

Five minutes talking Game of Thrones here, seven silly Skypes about pet monkeys there  -- stuff adds up. The worst offender of all, though: Meetings. 

Meetings are not evil, but they are enablers. They magnify our bad behaviors – a perfect landscape for distraction, the place productivity goes to die. Above all, they’re a major source of workplace stress.

We’re not saying everyone should work from home and then performance would go through the roof. What we are saying is meeting culture can hamper productivity. And here are five ways:

  1. Analysis Paralysis
    Meetings are meant to facilitate communication and collaboration. At that, they can be effective. But an unintended consequence of meetings is that it can make it too easy for indecisive employees to talk in circles and avoid making decisions. Where better to pass the buck than in a room full of people? And when you have a meeting-heavy company culture, it can perpetuate a vicious cycle where employees don’t feel empowered to make decisions without meeting first. This kind of analysis paralysis can kill productivity.

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  2. So Many Meetings 
    The average American employee spends more than 9 hours each week preparing for or sitting though meetings, according to a Clarizen and Harris Poll survey. That’s like losing a day each week cooped up in meetings – and remember that’s just the average. In a meeting-heavy culture, it’s easy to double that number.  Also, nobody wants to be there. People would literally rather watch paint dry than sit in a status meeting.

  3. And Everyone’s Invited
    It’s a work meeting, not a first-grader's birthday party. You can, and should, be judicious with the invites. There’s no greater timesuck than sitting through an hour-long meeting when you don’t need to be there – even if you’re multitasking, which probably you are. Sometimes that multitasking is responding to emails, but more often it’s sketching flowers in a notebook. And that’s a waste of everyone’s time.       

  4. Phil, On the Phone
    There’s always one, right? Always someone who works remotely, or a team member who dials in from another office. You know how hard it is to hear that guy? Try being that guy. Following a conversation among a roomful of people is difficult enough from the outside listening in. And forget about trying to get a word in edgewise. Fighting to hear or be heard can be stressful, unproductive experience. 

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  5. We Have Work To Do, People
    Technically, meetings are work. But for many employees, they’re getting in the way of work. Two hours of meetings shortens the practical work day by two hours, which shortens your project deadlines for two hours. When you’ve got children to pick up from school or other commitments outside of the office, it’s easy to spend the whole meeting stressing about what you’re missing, or when you’ll have time to do your real work.

Basically, Mismanaged Meetings are Maddening  

And most meetings are mismanaged. From the guest list to the deck and phone or video conferencing tech, meetings are rife with inefficiencies. Too few companies train employees on managing effective meetings, when better managed meetings would eliminate many of these issues.

So, if you’re going to run a meeting, a few tips:

  1. Make Sure the Agenda and Invites are Tight
    If it’s a meeting with a lot of moving parts and groups, let people know when they should arrive – and when they can leave.

  2. Assign Prep Work 
    Have people come prepared, so no one stops to do research.

  3. Define Your Purpose
    All meetings are not created equal – they can be informational, decision-making or input-oriented. Understanding your objective will help you run your meeting accordingly.

  4. Test the Tech
    Organizers should arrive five minutes early to dial the conference line or hook up the projector.

  5. Hand Out Roles
    You should have a leader, timekeeper, recorder
    and facilitator. The first three are fairly obvious. But the facilitator is key -- but you’ll want someone dedicated to paying attention to team dynamics, cutting off tangents and mining for productive conflict.  
By taking these five simple steps, you should actually be able to stick to the agenda you set, and then distribute the minutes to any team members who weren’t essential to the meeting. You can still have your meetings, but with the pared back invites, less meeting-related stress and better productivity, everyone wins.  

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