Business leaders tend to complain about their meetings: ‘too frequent and poorly managed’ is what we often hear. Yet, most leaders do not take any actions because they accept dysfunctional meetings as a necessary evil of their daily life. However, bad meetings not only reduce their individual productivity and well-being but also cause high costs for their organisations in terms of time, money, and other resources. Let us find out the causes and consequences of dysfunctional meeting management in this article.
That meeting frustrations are in fact widespread amongst leaders is confirmed by research. In a study conducted by Leslie A. Perlow, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School and founder of the Better Work Institute, only 17% reported that their meetings are generally productive uses of group and individual time. A staggering 71% said that their meetings were unproductive and inefficient and 62% said meetings are missed opportunities to bring the team closer together. Similarly, a recent McKinsey survey of 1259 business leaders from 91 countries showed that 61% say that most of their decision-making time is used ineffectively.
Thus, what is at the root of these frustrations? What makes today’s leadership meetings unproductive? At the core of these problems is the fact that very few organisations see meetings as a strategic investment and actively take actions to measure and improve the productivity of their meeting culture. Although meeting time has increased a great deal over the past 50 years, today’s leaders spend on average between 23 and 45 hours a week in meetings. It would seem that meeting management has not evolved much.
While many organisations have elaborate procedures for managing capital, time spent in organisations goes largely unmanaged. Studies show that 80% of top management's time is devoted to issues that account for less than 20% of a company's long-term value. In fact, a lot of organisational time is squandered on issues not directly supporting business objectives. Yet, less than 5% of survey respondents said their company had a rigorous and disciplined process for focusing top management’s time on the most important issues.
Moreover, organisations are not doing any type of accountability. There is no-one – for example a Chief Meeting Officer – dedicated to own meetings and to put a strategy on how to improve and measure the meeting culture in place. Despite the impressive amount of time they consume, there are very few organisations that actively assess meeting productivity. Steven Rogelberg, professor of organisational science, management, and psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the book The Surprising Science of Meetings, held a presentation at a large HR conference and reported that none of the executives present included questions about meeting effectiveness in their employee engagement surveys. Neither did they have any processes in place to gather 360-degree feedback about meeting leadership.
What makes matters worse is that the leaders do not see themselves as part of the problem, and, in turn, do not collect feedback. One of Rogelberg’s studies shows that leaders consistently rate their own meetings very favorably - and much more positively than attendees do. A survey of more than 1’300 managers found that while 79% of them said that meetings they initiated were extremely or very productive, only 56% said the same about the ones initiated by others. Additional research found that the attendees who are the most active are the ones who feel that meetings are the most effective and satisfying. When leaders assume it is all going well, they are less likely to solicit feedback and seek opportunities to improve.
No strategic importance and a lack of accountability eventually triggers a vicious circle of dysfunctional practices on different levels:
No training and insufficient knowledge of productive meeting management.
Dysfunctional, outdated, and slow processes throughout the meeting cycle.
A patchwork of multiple solutions not exclusively designed for meetings.
These dysfunctional practices mutually reinforce each other. And as long as organisations do little or nothing to assess the return on their meeting investment and collect feedback, a change in their strategy and culture will not take place. Yet, this vicious circle of unproductive and excessive meetings - the meeting madness - causes huge costs in terms of time, money, and other resources (e.g. employee well-being). Let us see how these costs affect organisations.
1. Wasted time and money
Rogelberg estimates that 50% of the total time spent in meetings is unproductive and calls meetings ‘an incredible blind spot for organisations’. The overall costs of meeting madness is huge. The price of poorly-organised meetings is estimated at 65 billion Euros in Germany alone.
2. Opportunity costs
The true consequence of meeting madness considerably exceeds the directly wasted salary costs. Unproductive meetings trigger high opportunity costs: They prevent leaders from getting important tasks done and are lost opportunities to foster relationships, ensure coordination throughout an organisation, and enable innovation.
Bad meetings also lower the quality and speed of decision making. They can lead to hastily conceived and harmful cost reductions, missed new product and business development opportunities, and poor long-term investments. The quality and speed of decision making are strongly associated with overall company performance.
3. Lower employee engagement
Also, the consequences of frustrations managers suffer due to excessive and unproductive meetings are often overlooked. Frustrated people are stressed, get sick more often, become less productive at work, and are much more prone to leave the company. Other consequences include lower meeting attendance and diminished effort among participants, which impede an organisation’s ability to accomplish its objectives.
Today’s meeting culture has a lot of room for improvement. This article identified the core problem of dysfunctional meeting management and showed its serious consequences.
Successful leaders see meetings as an essential element of leadership. They are bold enough to ask: Are the meetings that I attend and chair productive enough? There are many ways how to diagnose meeting madness. For example, by gathering feedback and by using dedicated meeting management technology.
Nowadays, leaders can make all their meetings count. It is time to take the first step.
Ready to make your meetings count?