Earlier this year, Mattel ousted CEO Bryan Stockton. Analysts blamed the firing on stagnating brands and losing business to web-based games. According to a story by NPR, Stockton complained last year that Mattel lacked an innovative culture and placed blame on at least one particular problem: bad meetings.
Estimates of the amount of time business people spend in meetings vary. The NPR article cited a Harris poll that found the “average American office worker spends more than nine hours of every week preparing for, or attending, project-update meetings.”
Other research estimates office workers spend at least one third of their time in meetings of one type or another. Despite varying conclusions from different studies, a couple of facts seem clear:
- With the rise of services such as mobile and video conferencing, the number and type of business meetings are likely to multiply.
- And, most meeting participants would like to know they are making the most of the time they spend meeting – in person, on a smartphone, by video or otherwise.
In a recent column for the SmartBlog on Leadership, corporate consultant and trainer Paul Axtell tells the story of a worldwide manufacturing engineering group with 30 members. The team’s mission was to improve their organization’s “worldwide manufacturing excellence,” and the group met eight hours a month to accomplish this goal. After observing the team’s meetings, Axtell discovered the group spent only 10% of its time discussing manufacturing excellence.
Avoiding this type of inefficiency—and the likely ineffectiveness that develops from it—begins with your mindset, according to Axtell.
“Consider the time in meetings to be precious,” he wrote in his SmartBlog piece. “Ensure that anyone who requests time on the agenda is respectful of the group’s time.”
But Axtell doesn’t limit his advice to attitude alone. In his new book Meetings Matter, he suggests action by defining seven types of “conversations” that help participants make the most of meetings:
1. Discuss Progress
Covering a group’s critical goals and initiatives should be a priority, especially if progress is in question. It’s helpful to acknowledge past mistakes in order to avoid them in the future. But, talking about past and future progress will encourage productivity and action.
2. Make Decisions
Bringing a working group together is an opportunity to inspire the best thinking among members and facilitate full ownership of any action or direction. Don’t lose sight of the power of decisiveness. Sometimes too much time is spent in the weeds debating semantics. take ownership of this problem and demand decisions be made.
3. Provide Input
It’s important to foster an atmosphere of inclusion and cooperation. This will give all meeting participants the ability to discuss concerns or new ideas that might be suppressed otherwise.
With the experience and insight of the whole group at hand, participants have an extraordinary opportunity to raise vexing issues or seek suggestions from managers and colleagues.
4. Gain Clarity
Before embarking on business initiatives or handing off problems to smaller working groups, meeting participants have the chance to ensure everyone knows all the facts and has shared perspectives and opinions. The success of a project often hinges on the team being on the same page about goals and work flow.
5. Discuss Strategic Topics
Shun simple updates for topics that move the organization forward or position the company for the future, such as talent reviews, organizational restructuring or hiring decisions.
6. Discuss Complex Issues
Shared understanding among colleagues is honed by direct discussion of complex, conceptual issues such as transparency, inclusion, integrity and ethics. These conversations shape organizational values and culture.
7. Train in Short, Powerful Segments
Developing skills is a worthy pursuit for meetings – unless the activity consumes so much time that other vital conversations never take place.
Axtell makes clear he’s not opposed to spending significant time on meetings: “If you want to meet on a regular basis, fine. Just make sure you are thoughtful about the agenda for each and every meeting.”
How does your company culture treat meetings? Which of these conversations could your company benefit from most? Which are the hardest to have? Share your thoughts below.