Information flows: How too many tools harm efficiency
Poor information flows raise challenges for modern leaders. This article illustrates how relying upon many tools leads to decreases in productivity.
Information is the basis for working efficiently and making informed decisions. In companies, it is increasingly important to have the right information accessible at the right time. It is often not enough to simply have it available, but to have it well prepared and logically linked, with an overview.
The paradox, however, is that there are enormous amounts of information available, but it is increasingly challenging to view relevant material on a given topic centrally. The reason for this is that an increasing number of tools are being used. Most of these promise an improvement in a certain area. The problem is that by using too many tools, a lot of information is no longer readily visible — it is concealed and, in the worst case, forgotten.
Anyone who prepares meetings and leads them feels the effects of this. Due to diverse information channels, the volume of materials to be sifted through is often too high. The question arises as to which versions are the latest, and whether information is incomplete or entirely unavailable.
This article demonstrates how poor information flows lead to challenges for modern leaders, and illustrates how relying upon multiple tools leads to decreases in productivity.
Download the checklist we prepared at the end to identify possible gaps in your information management, and improve the quality of your entire meeting process — before, during, and after meetings.
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Scattered tools and disorganised information
Order, structure, and adequate preparation of processes, meetings and decisions: All of these are key determinants of organisational productivity and success. However, the sheer amount of information available through various tools often prevents this.
That is why a successful flow of information — in direct connection with efficient meeting management — is of enormous importance for productive work, and for ensuring the quality of the decisions to be made. Therefore, what counts above all is an overview of all information, and ensuring that it is stored in a searchable way.
The following problem points are prevalent in many organisations:
- Relevant information is not available: It is a common problem that relevant information cannot be found at all. Either it does not exist in the first place or — worse — it gets lost throughout cumbersome administrative processes. This is fatal, as managers in particular should not base their decisions on incomplete information.
- Information is available, but it cannot be found: A survey by Klipboard concluded that office workers spend five to six hours per week on administrative tasks — primarily searching for and filing documents.1 This is more than a full working day in a week.
- Information is not centralised: Often the information needed is available and can be found, but people who need to use it cannot readily access it. Especially when many tools are used at the same time, there can be chaos with permissions: There is no overview of who exactly can access which data. Linked to this, sensitive data can also be passed on inadvertently, which is a considerable security risk.
- Decisions made cannot be tracked: A central purpose of meetings is to arrive at decisions. However, this achievement loses significant value if the decisions made aren’t kept track of. Documenting decisions is important for record keeping, but also for the purpose of execution and fostering accountability.
- Too many tools cloud visibility: Without centralisation and standardisation, it can be difficult — or even impossible — to get the information that’s needed and to work efficiently as a company. Specifically, too many tools used at the same time make it difficult to have a holistic overview. Instead of the hoped-for progress, the exact opposite happens: very few company-wide usable results emerge, processes are unnecessarily delayed and goals are not achieved.
The data from the chart shows where the problems lie: Since top managers spend a significant part of their working time in meetings, a functional flow of information is crucial, especially in this area. On the other hand, the working world is becoming more complex due to increased tool use for collaboration and communication.
At the same time, the available knowledge, which should be filtered, ordered, and categorised, is increasing at an enormous rate. This is not the only reason why searching for information is challenging and time-consuming. The average employee spends more than one whole working day a week on this administrative task alone.
Information flow: Clear structures are needed
These problem points lead to the conclusion that a sound flow of information is of high importance. In concrete terms, it is vital to have information as well-sorted and categorised as possible, deriving the right conclusions and finally being able to make target-oriented decisions. Therefore, there is a direct connection to meeting management, which is highly dependent on adequate information and well-chosen topics.
To achieve this, the required information must first be available and easy to find. If you have to search for a long time and first sort out scattered information, you have not only lost time, but also energy and patience.
Instead, the following should always be determined, if possible:
- Is the required information available?
- Where can it be found?
- Which documents and data are up-to-date?
- How can they be classified and categorised?
- What are the (possible) next steps?
Too many tools hold up the flow of information
The challenge of establishing a central flow of information is therefore of elementary importance. Processes need clear procedures and conformity in order to be optimised and efficient.
In reality, however, too many and redundant tools — for collaboration, communication, information, and data management — often lead to a considerable loss of information. This is particularly evident in meeting management with numerous different solutions: There is no clear process that accompanies and optimises the meeting across all three phases — preparation, execution, and follow-up. As a result, important information is lost and there is a lack of clarity at many points.
Diverse tools: These are the risks
In reality, however, many different tools are used in companies. The spread of digital collaboration tools increased rapidly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing digitalisation, and this isn’t going away. These effects can also be observed above all in meeting and video conferencing solutions. According to a survey in 2020, a quarter of home office workers made ten or more video calls a day.6
Now the transformation of the working world continues and companies are keen to invest further in digital collaboration tools — largely focusing on efficiency and productivity.7 While productivity means that concrete results and achievements are produced, efficiency describes the achievement of these results with as little (time) effort as possible. The ongoing digital transformation and the investment in digital tools should primarily drive these two factors.
First of all, this idea is very accurate: often, digital tools enable great progress — they increase performance and make work more flexible. However, it is absolutely necessary to maintain a central flow of information. Too many tools at once not only lead to information overload, but also make reporting more difficult. Internal collaboration must be centralised to prevent this and to function efficiently.
Examples of the importance of centralised solutions
- Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone company at the time, was down in 2011. This was not ostensibly due to slow technological developments, but very much due to a lack of internal collaboration. Nokia had not managed to transform its operational processes.8
- Initially, the company mymuesli used different tools operating side by side that could not be linked together. Things finally improved when the company opted for the central cloud solution of a large provider. Data protection was also an important factor.
Reasons for centralisation
Here is an overview of some of the reasons why too many and decentralised tools can be a problem:
- Information overload: Managers and employees are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information. Data, facts, and documents cannot be organised in a meaningful way.
- Internal communication fails: Without a central solution for collaboration or communication, valuable information is lost.
- Siloed landscapes emerge: Everyone works with very specific tools, but no one really works with each other. Information does not leave individual circles or departments.
- Document management: Without a central solution, documents are not clear and can be found by everyone. Searching for them costs valuable time, efficiency, and also takes up financial resources.
- Data security and compliance: A central solution with functioning protection poses significantly fewer risks than numerous scattered tools with sometimes unclear protection mechanisms.
Following, we explain how the use of many scattered tools and an incoherent flow of information affect meetings. This can serve as a basis for optimising your own meeting and information management in a targeted way.
Unproductive meetings: Why the use of different tools is at their core
The problem of unproductive meetings is no secret. Their far-reaching negative impact is shown, for example, in our meeting cost calculator. There are many reasons for this. One of the most important is the use of myriad tools. Each solution can be very useful on its own, but their value is eroded if they don’t support a coherent meeting process together.
According to this principle, many different tools for preparing and conducting meetings in particular can become a problem. Not only does this too often result in a significant waste of time, but it also results in lower security and compliance and, most importantly, lower productivity.
Example: Too many channels complicate the process
Utilising multiple channels for meeting coordination is a significant issue. For example, scheduling meetings via email is not only a security risk, but also leads to problems in finding information. If the preparation then takes place via collaboration and communication tools, important data cannot be viewed centrally.
The meeting is then finally held in a video conference solution: The problem is that the participants cannot centrally view the information they need to participate in a meaningful and goal-oriented way. Now each participant has countless windows open and nervously searches for the required documents.
This leads to long pauses and delays in the meeting: Instead of clearly focussing on results, there are questions of principle and a need for clarification. Before the participants are really ready for discussion, the scheduled meeting time is already over - the goals have not been achieved, decisions have not been made.
Why incoherent meeting management is such a problem
Meetings always serve specific goals, they are not an end in themselves. So for them to be truly productive, we need to think in terms of results. And for them to be efficient, there needs to be an optimised process across all phases - preparation, execution and follow-up.
It quickly becomes clear that this is impossible with an incoherent process spanning many different tools. As a consequence, the following occurs:
- The search for information and documents costs an unnecessary amount of time.
- It’s uncertain whether all the information is available at all.
- The preparation is only indirectly effective in the meeting itself.
- Too much meeting time is wasted on getting up to date with the current state of knowledge instead of being able to hold valuable discussions.
- The quality of the results and decisions suffers.
Conclusion: An efficient flow of information needs a central solution
Information is the seed from which companies can thrive. In other words, an effective flow of information is hugely important to moving forward and achieving goals. Too many tools can stall this process entirely.
Therefore, the way forward is centralisation and transparent organisation of information. This is a challenge in meeting management: too much complexity and information overload costs time and efficiency and prevents better results.
In order to ensure coherence and achieve efficient meetings, the path clearly leads through a central solution that accompanies the entire process, ensures the required documents are centrally accessible, and enables efficient work.
Stop spending so much time looking for information and see what it feels like to have it all at your fingertips with the help of this checklist that aims to provide leaders with a holistic overview across the entire meeting process — before, during, and after meetings.
1 ‘Zwei Stunden suchen Angestellte täglich nach Dokumenten’, it-daily.net, 2018.
2 ‘Die größten Zeitfresser der Chefs’, Michaela Paefgen-Laß, Springer Professional, 2018.
3 ‘Unzufriedene Mitarbeiter im Homeoffice – zu viele Tools’, Blue Consult, 2021.
5 ‘Zwei Stunden suchen Angestellte täglich nach Dokumenten’, it-daily.net, 2018.
6 ‘Videokonferenzsysteme – ein Überblick’, J. Bolkart, Statista, 2022.
8 ‘Aus Nokias Niedergang lernen’, Zeit Online, 2016.