Time, business: How valuable was last meeting you attended?

Time wasted in frequent, lengthy and poorly planned meetings is detrimental. [iStockphoto]

Despite meetings running hours on end, should it be a surprise that organisations still find it difficult to get things done? Or make optimal decisions that substantially contribute to their sustained future?

The answer could probably reside on less than optimal design and execution of collaborative interactions (otherwise referred to as meetings) within the enterprise. In other words, meetings that are ineffective and with no impact therefore.

Sincere value adding collaborations within the organisation demand premeditated thought, guidance and discipline, to ensure the enterprise does not waste time, a scarce resource.

It has been empirically established that most organisational human talent find themselves spending perhaps way too much time on many pointless meetings that usurp their energy and creativity in addition to an overload of information they may not need and never use.

Human resource time (not dissimilar to a production equipment) is a finite capital asset which the organisation is obligated to protect and optimise for the organisation to deliver on its mandate.

Meetings that run well (good time management) deliver on optimal organisational decisions in addition to an energised human resource. On the other hand, meetings that run inefficiently, tend to deliver organisational confusion and destruction, and are a definite source of human talent demotivation.

A number of key questions need to be answered before any meeting and its frequency is proposed: should there be a meeting in the first place or can decisions be made by an individual supported by consultations with concerned stakeholders; if a meeting is to be called, what is its purpose, what are its key deliverables, how long will it last; who will attend the meeting, what would be their role; on the meeting process, what agenda will empower the invited human talent to deliver on the required outcome, how should the meeting be facilitated, what prompts, data, information or activities will be required for the meeting?

Meetings should be viewed from an opportunity cost lens. In other words, what does the organisation lose when its team or teams are in ineffective meetings frequently? Economist describe an opportunity cost as a benefit foregone by not choosing an alternative course of action. Ineffective and poorly run meetings are therefore a key resource drain for the organization. Worse still, an enterprise could also lose its competitive edge as its key teams continuously attend hours on end meetings that have  unclear organizational sustainability outcomes spelt out.            

To improve on their outcomes, meetings can generally be grouped into three categories: the category of decision making meetings may include routine operational decisions, as well as complex or uncertain decisions about the future of the enterprise.

These category of meetings need to be clear on what decisions must be made and who is needed to make them. Final decisions should be the consequence of this category of meetings; driven by an empowered human talent, the category of creative and or coordination meetings should result in probable solutions and prepare for a decision meeting, whereas routine coordination working meetings can result in what next steps need to be activated; information or digestive sharing with the objective of increasing awareness, forms the third category of meetings.

Many organisations have reduced the duration and frequency of this category, favouring instead, to use other forms of communications to keep their teams informed.

As Anthony Jay in his 1976 seminal article would write, ‘a great many meetings waste a great deal of everyone’s time and seem to be held for historical rather than practical reasons’. Well run meetings are however important, as meetings do define the team, the group, or the unit. Additionally, a meeting is the place where the group revises, updates, and adds to what it knows as a group. A meeting is thus a status arena. Meetings do also create to those present, a commitment to the decisions it makes, in addition to the objectives laid out. When the combined experience, knowledge, judgment, authority, and imagination of a couple of people through a meeting are brought to bear on issues, many a plan and decisions are bettered and on occasion transformed.

Meetings that are effective produce useful organisational results. Effective meetings do also have high participation, are interactive, carry good energy levels, are constructive collaborations and testimony of conversations that add value. Even more importantly, effective meetings stay on topic and optimise on people’s time and energy.

As meetings do clog up days, making it hard to get the day job done, how can one really make meetings more effective and regain control of their calendar? Perhaps it is time each enterprise had a meeting to discuss all its meetings, their frequency, their purpose, what value they add, etc,  with the objective of distilling which of the meetings are and are not adding value to the organisation’s growth and its sustainability. This proposed approach would be time well-invested. A lot of data is out there showing just how much enterprise time we are wasting in frequent, lengthy and poorly planned meetings to the detriment of the future.

[Dr Paul Wanyagah, is an expert in leadership and a former media executive. [email protected]]

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