Quo vadis, meeting culture?
How much time do you spend in meetings each year? 50 hours? 100 hours? According to a study¹, office workers spend 198 hours a year in meetings. That is almost 25 working days on average. A lot of time. Unfortunately, many of these meetings are highly inefficient, so it’s not surprising that 8 out of 10 people say they are more productive at work.
“But we need meetings to discuss things” is a popular response. Really? Do we really need so many inefficient meetings? Let’s think about whether we really need meetings, as they happen thousands of times a day today, or whether we can at least make them better!
When are meetings inefficient?
Monday morning, nine o’clock. Some office in Germany. A boss comes to work and enters the meeting room.
Everyone says, “Good morning.”
Boss: “Morning. So, what’s today?”
Extremely hackneyed and yet I bet my annual salary that this is exactly what happens. Every day. By the way, this is exactly the point at which a meeting should be stopped immediately. Everything after that is a waste of time.
A meeting is there to work out concrete results. But this requires that everyone is prepared to work out a result and that everyone present is familiar enough with the subject matter to make an appropriate contribution. And here the crux of the matter already begins!
If you ask around why meetings are inefficient and do not deliver value for most participants, you will get many answers that make a statement at the core:
Meetings are inefficient,
- when there is no clear goal,
- this also meant that no preparation could be made,
- the focus shifts due to bad or missing moderation,
- into absurd “what if…” cases,
- those present are distracted, or
- even the wrong participants sit in the meeting and
- no results are achieved.
Of course there are many other factors that make a meeting inefficient or even obsolete.
Do we need this appointment?
The first question that I think we should ask ourselves, quite clearly, is this:
Do we need this appointment?
Honestly, who consciously asks this question when organising a meeting?
Usually meetings are based on sentences like “…we need a meeting for this” or “…we should discuss this together in a meeting.”. . There are even meetings that follow to-do from minutes: Organise follow-up meeting.
But do we really NEED these meetings?
Not from my point of view, because
- information can be disseminated much more widely and effectively with suitable methods.
- the elaboration of a certain subject matter can be done much more efficiently in a collaborative way.
- feedback can be obtained in a more straightforward way.
- decisions can often be made much more objectively when there is no direct contact.
The path to value creation
So just away with the meetings, appointments, conferences?
… there are also issues that definitely need a personal contact.
- conflict resolution…
Because of the very creative character of such events, I think it is essential to have direct contact with the people involved. These meetings usually have a great influence on subsequent measures or even strategies. And this is exactly what our valuable time should be used for: to create value! If we all work consistently on this, and if we are always aware of this, then I am sure that in one year 75% of all meetings, appointments, discussions and standups would be abolished. I bet you another year’s salary on that … 😉
But until then it is a long, arduous road for companies and their employees. Most of the time, the individual does not even have the opportunity to exert influence. Nevertheless, I believe that something can change in organisations in this respect. We have to start being consequent ourselves and set up our “own rules”. This is the basis for a healthy meeting culture that can develop with a lot of effort and expense. If Amazon, Google and Facebook serve as a model here for many companies, I assume that any other company can also create a meaningful and efficient meeting culture.
The core: clear rules
The core of a healthy meeting culture is clear rules that you adhere to yourself and which ideally also serve as general meeting rules. Here are my suggestions for such rules:
1. As inviter / organiser, set out your goal for the meeting.
Would you like to bring about a decision?
Do you need someone to challenge?
Do you want to gather information?
Communicate your goal to the participants in advance and assign a role to everyone.
2. An agenda with defined sections and a timebox is essential.
Send the agenda to all participants in good time.
Ask for appropriate preparation for the meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, take five minutes to remind all participants of the purpose of the meeting.
Ask if the goal is clear to everyone.
Take the last timeslot to document results, derive measures and agree on to-dos.
Consistent gathering of feedback on the meeting (not on the topic!) is a must!
3. Consider very carefully who the right group of participants is.
Of course the right group of participants depends on your objectives. In general: as many participants as necessary, as few as possible!
In a smaller circle you have a better chance of achieving your goal.
Even a 1-to-1 meeting should comply with the meeting rules.
Establish the law of two feet in meetings. If you think you cannot get any added value from the meeting or cannot create added value for others, you can leave without having to “fear” consequences. The other participants in turn may intervene and communicate why you think the person should stay. The final decision, however, is up to each person (this point is the supreme discipline of the meeting culture for me).
4. Mobile devices are prohibited or are only used for the purpose of the meeting.
You should clearly communicate this rule in advance.
But this also means that you or the moderator may be responsible for the documentation. The participants should be able to concentrate on the content of the meeting. In addition, this rule will stifle the impulse to write an email or to look up a fact online. Even if it is hard: insist on it! This will be a great favor not only for yourself, but also for all other participants.
5. Results are the most important goal of a meeting.
Document results in a way that is visible and understandable for everyone.
Identify concrete measures with responsibilities and deadlines.
Ask the employees involved whether the consequences of these to-dos are clear to everyone or whether everyone has understood what has to be done and, above all, what this is useful for.
One more little tip:
There are scheduled meetings which are well prepared but then postponed at short notice. Tuesday participant A cannot attend, Thursday participant B is out of the house, etc. If this happens with a meeting that you have organised, ask yourself openly whether the time for the meeting and the topic are chosen correctly. Sometimes an actually important topic loses priority because the timing is not right. There are simply too many other topics smouldering in the company or department that are currently the priority of the participants. In such a case, I would recommend that you simply cancel the meeting. This is much healthier than repeatedly postponing the appointment from one week to the next.
There are probably many ways to develop a healthy and efficient meeting culture and thus banish unnecessary appointments from our daily lives. I think wanting is the biggest factor in all of this. Followed by discipline. And also the ability to endure being looked at crookedly, because you make it clear to the participants that the meeting follows certain rules.
We have more than enough arguments for such procedures. And I am sure that everyone who attends meetings regularly can fully understand them, because they have often sat in inefficient meetings themselves. Let us put an end to bad, inefficient meetings. Develop a meaningful meeting culture. The added value that we generate with this is worth it in the truest sense of the word!
 Studie: Meetings sind verschwendete Zeit in German
Tamara-Jane Schickle works as Product Manager at Omikron Data Quality GmbH. After training as a public administration specialist, she tried her hand at various professions in order to find something that really suits her. In 2015 she first came in contact with agile software development and that is where she discovered her passion: doing something with people and using common sense. She has been working for Omikron since 2019 and enjoys the daily challenges.