How much of your time is spent in meetings? We all love to complain about meetings, but how closely are we really looking at the effectiveness of our meetings? There have been a number of studies done over the years, form organizations like the Center for Work Life Policy, Robert Half International, and even Microsoft showing that as much of 40 to 50% of the average professional work week are spent sitting in meetings. Whether this is good or bad may depend largely on how your organizational culture uses meetings to make decisions, define strategy, and unblock the inevitable logjams that inhibit us from moving forward. But are meetings the best way to build consensus and coordinate activities? If not, what is the best way to move your organization beyond meetings?
We’re Not Effective at Measuring Effectiveness
Most of us would agree that meetings make up a sizeable portion of the typical work week. Even when we’re not sitting in meetings, we spend hours getting ready for those meetings. There’s a very entertaining blog post by the team at LucidMeetings.com that claims there are somewhere between 36 and 55 million meetings per day in the US alone (A Fresh Look at the Number, Effectiveness, and Cost of Meetings in the US) based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and other leading sources, with $1.4 trillion spent per year on meetings with $213 billion wasted.
“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” ~Economist John Kenneth Galbraith
There is no real consensus on what percentage of meetings are actually effective — largely due to the fact that most companies do not have any kind of measurement in place to track their effectiveness. And isn’t “effectiveness” a subjective term, anyway? One person may find a group discussion very effective in answering her questions and establish a strategy for moving forward, while another may find that his questions have gone unanswered and feel that the whole thing was a waste of time.
One common problem is the leadership gap. In my personal experience, working for both large and small organizations, few people have undergone any kind of training to help make meetings more effective. Cultural bad habits are difficult to break unless there is an organized effort, with top-down support, to correct the behaviors.
The Dawn of Real-Time Communications
Beyond all of the data and cultural stances on the value derived out of meetings, the true impact is more transparent: moving between tasks, especially between complex tasks, takes a toll on individual productivity. The more that we stop our work activities to refocus on meetings, the less productive we are overall.
We often praise our peers for their ability to multitask, but being effectiveness within this mode of work is difficult to maintain.
“Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking. Psychologists tend to liken the job to choreography or air-traffic control, noting that in these operations, as in others, mental overload can result in catastrophe.” ~American Psychological Association
One of the primary benefits of the rapid adoption of real-time communications tools is that these tools can minimize the impact of multitasking by allowing information workers to respond to questions quickly, then get right back to work. Tools such as Skype or Slack keep global teams connected through the desktop, but social collaboration and communication tools that are integrated into key workloads, like SharePoint or Salesforce, provide even more value because it allows team members to connect and converse within context to their work.
Microsoft has been hard at work building features and tools to help organizations reduce the meeting overload. Features such as co-editing of documents, machine learning-based search and discovery capabilities like Delve, and data visualization tools can help teams become better at sharing data and updates in real-time, decreasing the need to keep people “updated” through face-to-face meetings. Microsoft has also been posting some great business-focused topics on the Office Blog, such as their recent post on how to improve meetings: 6 ways to make virtual meetings more efficient.
At Beezy, we believe in delivering a streamlined user experience that makes team collaboration, communication, and knowledge capture more fluid and easy — which will likely result in fewer in-person meetings. When people are connected and work is transparent, there is less of a need for meetings, plain and simple.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by meetings, and want to see a better, more intelligent way to work, sign up for a Beezy demo today.