As a meeting organiser for executive and board meetings, I want to ensure attendees can reach their meeting goals, but unfortunately, it is not always the case.
An HBR (Harvard Business Review) study actually reveals that 71% of a total of 182 executive directors surveyed consider meetings as unproductive and inefficient. In addition, 65% said meetings keep them from doing their jobs1. I hope this doesn’t reflect the reality in my organisation, but I also want to make sure that every meeting I organise makes us grow as a company.
Let’s first try to identify the characteristics of poorly run meetings, and how we can tackle some of the issues we face when ensuring meetings are productive, efficient and time-saving. In doing so, our executive and board of directors' demand for efficiency and effectiveness is addressed, and their meetings will be a success. Thus, we save precious time and make every meeting count.
In order to approach the challenges best, we must identify the characteristics and causes of ineffective meetings. Therefore, it is important to understand what is an effective and efficient organisation. More so, it is essential to comprehend what these two words refer to, and make a link between the organisation and its leadership meetings.
An organisation is effective when it strives for and achieves the right goals. An organisation is described as efficient if it uses the right means to achieve the desired goals.2
The definition of an organisation's efficiency and effectiveness can be applied to leadership meetings as well, because in both cases, there is a need to achieve the right goals, and use the right means to achieve them. Furthermore, a leadership meeting is effective when it strives for, and reaches the established goals, and it is efficient if the appropriate means are used to attain them.
As an organiser or an executive director I want to understand what are the causes of poorly managed meetings. This is why we implemented this simple, but effective checklist - here are the 8 symptoms that help us understand if we can improve our meeting organisation3.
If one or more of the above points are met, participants are inclined to perceive the meeting(s) as poorly organised. There are several reasons why these situations are probable, but we will only discuss the most important ones.
Executive directors are missing relevant documents.
It might happen that we, as meeting organisers, forget to send a document, or materials are sent just before the meeting, or they are stored in the ‘right place’, but participants don’t remember where. This is also why, in a formal reunion, we spend a lot of time on making sure that all participants, and decision-makers, share the same knowledge. This takes a lot of minutes, and can lead to significant delays in the schedule. All this becomes even more relevant when we consider that participants who are not fully informed will be unable to take optimal decisions.
The latest version(s) of documents are partly, or not at all available.
We make sure that meeting participants, both in the board or in the management, receive the latest documents, which can be perceived as spam, especially when there a countless new versions. In the end, attendees lose the overview of which version of which document is the most current. This can result in decisions being taken based on outdated, incorrect or incomplete information, and it can have serious consequences for the development and the strategic planning of the company.
Attendees are insufficiently or not at all prepared.
From what we have experienced, the extent of preparation is overestimated. There is no time for conscientious preparedness because it was spent on holding other meetings. In this situation, as in the previous one, there is a high possibility that we will spend part of the meeting explaining the content in the documents and/or that suboptimal decisions will be taken, and these will affect our organisation on the long-term.
There is no agenda, or it is too extended.
This is something that happens rarely in formal meetings, but in case of urgencies it might occur. If a reunion has no agenda, there is no overview of the topics to be discussed, nor the procedure. Without a clear and structured process, the meeting can quickly get out of hand: irrelevant points are examined; sessions last too long, without a predetermined time window for each agenda item, etc. In the end, the outcome of the reunion is unsatisfactory, and decisions are not taken.
On the contrary, if the agenda is too broad, then each individual agenda item is dealt with in record time, without a clear objective in mind. This could result in incomprehensible minutes-taking, and even decisions, leading to further meetings of clarification. In addition, this situation can determine delays in the schedule, which leaves attendees with the impression of inefficiency, and ultimately, waste of time.
Some meetings could simply be avoided.
There are matters that can be handled in a short phone call, or in an informal gathering. These should be managed as such to avoid overbooking executive directors' calendars. Otherwise, it gives directors the impression that there are far too many meetings, and they no longer prepare in-depth for them. More so, they will attend the reunions having set for themselves the wrong expectations.
There is no record, or limited record of what has been said and decided during the meeting.
Taking minutes is, for some of us, an art. It can be a time-consuming, and a deceptively difficult task. The worst outcome is when meeting organisers do not offer an accurate record of what has been decided, why and by whom, and of what are the expected next steps. This leads to confusion and to discussions in a subsequent meeting, because decision makers won't recall the reasoning behind their decisions. As a result, it will cost everybody involved significant time, if not more severe consequences in the case of an external scrutiny.
Our goal is to support directors to keep our company true to its strategic purpose, and ensure we all operate our meetings successfully. We, as meeting organisers, need to make sure that both the management and the board have the latest relevant information available at the right time so they can prepare properly and take optimal decisions. Every challenge we have seen together, embeds an opportunity for us to steer our corporate efficiency and effectiveness.
In the age of digitisation during which processes are increasingly automated and digitised, meetings must also go from analog to digital in order to keep up with today’s business needs. A digital solution is the most fitted variant to make sure that all the information is always up to date, and available for all directors participating at the respective meetings. It is also essential for me, as meeting organiser, to have a single tool supporting me in taking minutes, in creating a clear agenda, and in assuring that all past decisions are recorded.
A board portal software offers me the necessary functions to improve the meeting organisation and execution, but also to support preparation from the participant's side.
Participants must always have the latest version(s) of the documents to help them get prepared. They should be able to read and edit relevant sections of reports, and other documents; and quickly find certain paragraphs with critical information, or data, in order to take faster, thoroughly informed decisions during formal reunions. For this reason, we have implemented a meeting framework, which embeds a set of rules to make sure we, the organisers, also get the information on time. In addition, these rules improve the quality of how meetings are run, and in this way, we achieve more productive and effective reunions.
Even though digitalisation had an impact on many industries, from the book industry to camera manufacturers, most companies still believe that digitalisation refers only to the adoption of a new technology. In fact, digitalisation is a “way in which many domains of social life are restructured around digital communication and media infrastructures”4. This requires a different corporate culture and the development of new skills for employees, and it is usually included in a more overarching digital transformation process. This cannot be built overnight. Its success requires time, and both the inclusion and coaching of all people involved in this change.5
In most situations, decisions in a company are made in formal meetings. This includes the switch from an analogue to an agile digital meeting management. Digitalisation, however, must not stop at reunions. Executive directors, boards of directors, and us, as meeting organisers, have a key role in promoting and leading by example in the digital era, beyond the conference room.
There are plenty of causes for poorly run meetings. In turn, these impose many challenges for both organisers and attendees. That is why it becomes crucial to overcome them. One solution to make sure participants are well prepared, have the relevant information at hand - regardless of their location; and secure access to the latest versions of the documents, is to adopt a new way of approaching meetings, which includes the right technology, improving the existing processes, implementing effective rules, and guiding internally the change.
With Sherpany, we save time during the entire meeting process, from the moment of the creation of the agenda to the archiving of the minutes. Our directors can focus merely on the topic and the contents of the meetings, and feel satisfied when stepping out of the conference room. They can focus on what they do best: taking decisions.
In the end, who doesn't aim for more effective and efficient meetings?
1. Perlow, L. A., Hadley, C. N., & Eun, E. (Juli - August 2017). Stop the meeting madness. Harvard Business Review, S. 1-9.
2. Vahs, D. (2015). Organisation Ein Lehr- und Managementbuch. Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel Verlag Stuttgart.
3. Agile Verwaltung. (07. September 2018). Agile Verwaltung.
4. J. Scott Brennen, Doctoral Candidate in Communication, and Daniel Kreiss, Associate Professor, both at the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism.
5. Zukunftsstark.org. www.zukunftsstark.org/digitale-disruption-wird-ignoriert/ (24.09.2018)