We recently met Louis Vareille. Passionate about meetings, he conceived the « Meeting Science » discipline dedicated to meetings with the objective of making each meeting productive, engaging and a learning experience.
The meeting madness, also known as meetingitis, has taken hold of companies. As Louis Vareille notes in his article summarising the results of a 2017 French OpinionWay study, an executive spends an average of 9 hours a week in meetings, and at the same time considers that only one in two is effective. This worrying statistic raises the question of organisational productivity, but it must also serve as an alert for leaders who are responsible for a team, and the motivation of its members.
What about this motivation when employees leave meetings with the feeling that they have wasted their time ? Let's go a little further by asking Louis Vareille a few questions:
Sherpany: In your article, you mention that only one meeting out of two is perceived as effective. Can we consider this as a symptom of meetingitis?
Louis Vareille: Meetingitis is a poorly defined disease. In my view, it refers to the efficiency and number of meetings. But perhaps the most important is the impact of this widespread pathology in companies on the motivation of participants, with a high risk of disengagement not only from meetings, but also from the company more generally. I have heard people say to me: "I left this company because I was tired of meetings." The perceived quality of the meetings was probably only a reflection of insufficient leadership.
Sherpany: In your experience, is this a phenomenon that concerns all companies?
Louis Vareille: Not according to my observations. Especially since meetings exist in a multitude of formats depending on the situation, whether to convey information, generate ideas, or make a decision. It is therefore difficult to put all meetings in the same basket. It is also worth mentioning the companies that have decided to tackle the subject head-on and have put in place good practices with a real discipline that is imposed on everyone, for the good of all.
It is also difficult to globalise when we take into account the differences from country to country. Each country has its own culture with regard to meetings, as I have personally experienced.
Sherpany: "20% less time spent in meetings, that's more than 8,000 euros in savings for an executive over a year." How did you come up with this amount?
Louis Vareille: Consider an executive who spends 10 hours a week in a meeting, 45 weeks a year, with a total hourly cost of 90 euros, you will reach an amount of 40,000 euros for a meeting. I let you calculate the savings generated if you reduce the time spent on these meetings by 20%. A second way to save money is to reduce the number of meetings. Recently I supported a company that managed to halve the number of its management committees, with twelve people around the table. They didn't dare tell me the economy generated...
Sherpany: You have created the International School of Meeting Science, can you explain to us what its purpose is?
Louis Vareille: The promise is to make each meeting productive, engaging and a learning experience. Productive to produce tangible results: ideas, decisions. Engaging to offer everyone the opportunity to contribute, before, during and after. Finally a learning experience by applying the third secret of the « Meeting Science » discipline "Doing better tomorrow".
Sherpany: You refer to leaders who have successfully addressed the issue of meetings. In your opinion, is it really only the responsibility of the company leader or can other managers lead this type of change?
Louis Vareille: In any organisation, the leader has a key role. It sets the tone and by its behaviour models what can be observed throughout the organisation. If you meet a member of the Executive Committee in a corridor who tells you half annoyed, half mocking: "The meeting was dramatic... as usual. A good time as I was late with e-mails."
Can you imagine the impact of such comments? What if the meetingitis actually started there? The leader is key to showing the way in meetings and to spreading clear messages in the organisation about expected behaviours: punctuality, conciseness, listening, clarity of decisions, ability to confront and be confronted, respect of commitments made, acceptance of feedbacks.
The least gracious will tell you that the fish rots by the head. I prefer to say that a staircase has to be swept from above. But the message remains the same.
Sherpany: How does this translate into practice?
Louis Vareille: It will be a question of enforcing rules. An example: a leader sets or accepts a 30-minute time limit for an exchange to advance a project, then lets the discussion get lost in unnecessary digressions without tackling it. Is he a good leader? This is doubtful whether it is in the way it calibrates the time needed for a group discussion, or in its ability to manage participants' behaviours. I am also thinking of all the micro-skills that can be learned and expressed in meetings with a ripple effect throughout the organisation, beyond the meetings.
One of the micro-skills I push for all my clients is evaluation. Thus, every meeting must end with an evaluation in session with the objective of answering a question together for the dynamics of a collective: "how can we do better next time", the famous 3rd secret.
We would like to thank Louis Vareille for this interview, and for sharing his operational experience! We share his view on the importance of a responsive leadership team that is ready to lead the necessary cultural changes for better meetings.
It is therefore crucial for the company to evaluate its approach to meetings and make the necessary changes. This may include elements of discipline that apply to all, or a clear meeting structure with a simple decisiometer on what type of meeting to set up.
These rules are accompanied by a systemic cultural change to really get to the heart of the problem and avoid any future spillover.
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