Making team meetings work for your organisation
Team meetings represent a significant investment of both time and money, yet many organisations do little to measure or optimise them. In this interview with Prof. Steven Rogelberg, we explore ways to increase the quality of meetings.
Benjamin Franklin once said: "time is money". Even today his words linger in the business world where many leaders still perceive meetings as an inevitable waste of time and, therefore, money.
This perception, though, is not a "universal rule" and, even assuming it was a rule, many companies are now daring to break it. An increasing number of organisations are moving away from seeing their team meetings as "a necessary evil" to instead viewing them as a strategic resource, worth investing in.
To shed more light on this issue and understand better the correlation between effective team meetings and business strategy we invited meeting expert, Prof. Dr. Steven G. Rogelberg, from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, to share his knowledge and findings on what makes team meetings truly work for everyone involved.
In this interview, Dr Rogelberg explains some of the drivers for enhancing the quality of meetings and gives several recommendations for leaders on how to boost team meeting efficiency.
Why are team meetings still so widely used?
Besides being essential to communication and coordination, meetings are where voice, inclusion, and organisational democracy can come to life. Meetings, in many ways, represent an evolution in organisations since the turn of century when boss-knows-best systems dominated. It is a recognition that diversity of perspectives and ideas matters. It is a recognition that people can do great and innovative things together. It is a recognition that doing activities to engender consensus and buy-in is critical to motivation, perseverance, and resilience. Too many organisations sit idly by and accept poor meetings as a way of organisational life. They are wrong. Meetings and meeting design can be improved, and done right can be key to employee engagement, innovation, productivity, and teamwork.
Team meetings represent a significant financial investment for organisations. Why don’t companies do more to address the perception of team meetings as an ‘inevitable’ cost?
This is a really interesting question. The base rate of bad meetings is just way too high. People, perhaps, assume that this is just how things are. It is considered the new norm and leaders get comfortable with it. At the same time, the banal everyday advice to improve meetings has not worked. This is actually why I wrote my book. I wanted to bring evidence-based meeting insights forward. There truly is an intriguing and surprising science of meetings that can move the dial on meeting effectiveness.
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How can leaders measure the ROI of their team meetings in order to help optimise them?
There are multiple layers to this question. Our research has shown that leaders are not highly effective at evaluating their meeting leadership skills. In fact, their self-perception is inflated. They think they are better than they actually are at running fruitful meetings. This is concerning in that they may not be highly motivated to make changes as they believe the meeting problem lies with other leaders, but they are doing fine. Given this, organisations and boards need to build systems to assess meetings.
The easiest one to do is to administer a survey around meetings. Learn about base rates, effectiveness, common problems, blind spots, and potential solutions. Communicate findings to all stakeholders and then re-administer the survey periodically. This serves to elevate the topic of meetings and ultimately creates accountability in that the results can be organised by departments and levels from staff meetings to board meetings. At the very least, build some meeting questions into your employee engagement survey efforts. Given the sheer amount of time employees spend in meetings, not doing this is a tremendous oversight.
Organisations and boards need to build systems to assess meetings.
In your book, you talk about key drivers that make meetings successful. Could you please give us examples of these and why are they considered essential to effective team meetings?
My book is a large collection of evidence-based insights.1 It represents a strategic approach leaders and organisations can take that are highly practical and accessible, but strongly based in science. Strategic is really the key. As to genuinely positively affect meetings, you have to address the system. Key pieces of that system are the people, the processes, and the context the meeting is taking place. These pieces are all connected to one another, but each has to be attended to in meaningful ways.
There are three main axes to consider when aiming to enhance meetings' efficiency and effectiveness: people, process, and technology. What is your opinion on this? How can the alignment of the three axes transform team meetings from time consuming, draining, frustrating gatherings into valuable business tools?
I would generally agree and commend you for taking this perspective. Meetings have to contain the right people given the goals of the meeting. Spectators have to be minimised. Meeting size needs to be lean, so that attendees can’t just blend into the background. Accountability and engagement must be the norm. The leader has to be tremendously prepared and recognise her/his role as a genuine facilitator. As facilitator of candid communication, meeting processes will be dynamic, inclusive, and genuine.
At the same time, the meeting leader can use so many different types of tools to make the meeting process work, from silent brainstorming, to dyadic work, to pre-meeting idea generation, to role-player. Furthermore, a host of technological tools can be leveraged that allow for anonymous input and voting. And, this speaks to overall context; mix up seating arrangements, meet in different places, stand-up at times, walk at times, etc.
What is your recommendation for leaders with respect to boosting team meeting efficiency and ROI?
I have so many different pieces of advice for leaders. Let me leave you with one key piece applicable to all meetings.
Research demonstrates the importance of preparatory mindset to driving sports performance, educational success, and leader effectiveness – how we think about something influences our behaviors, tactics, and our choices. Meeting leaders who genuinely embrace the notion of wanting to be an excellent steward of others’ time will prepare for meetings in a manner that honors and maximises time for all. They won’t want to just come unprepared, instead that actively make decisions that genuinely benefit the collective and are committed to designing a useful and productive meeting experience.
Thus, meeting leaders embody their key role of being a facilitator and ensuring that the meeting is meeting all needs that need to be achieved. Instead of highlighting his/her abilities, the leader looks to involve others, actively asks questions to facilitate discussion, manages time effectively, actively listens to attendees, is open to hearing about concerns, and manages conflicts that arise. Actually, the leader derives power and influence by being cognizant of employees’ time and caring for their mental health rather than being too controlling. This does not mean that the leader cannot be directive—he/she still can be in order to move the discussion forward. But, by employing a mindset of being a steward of others’ time, the leader will appear as more genuine and attendees will be more engaged and willing to provide input.
1 ‘The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance’, Steven G. Rogelberg, January, 2019.