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Corporate America’s Most Costly Habit

by Guest Writter
Elise Keith, Co-founder, Lucid Meetings & Author, Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization

There is one activity in every company that:

  • Impacts every employee,
  • Consumes 30% of employees’ time on average, and up to 80% of an executives’ day,
  • Drives the success or failure of all collaborative work.

This is an enormous investment. And yet, most companies provide zero training and have no systems in place to ensure a return on all this time.

Yes, it’s meetings.

The Cost of Bad Meetings

There are over 55 million meetings in the U.S. alone each day. They don’t all go well.

Estimates for the percentage of meetings that are a waste of time and resources range from 25% to 45%, which means the productivity drain on the U.S. economy from bad meetings is well over $300 billion dollars annually.

Of course, bad meetings do far more harm than wasting a bit of time. Companies with an unhealthy and immature meeting culture suffer from:

Decision effectiveness and financial results correlated at a 95% confidence level or higher for every country, industry, and company size in our sample.”

The effectiveness of a company’s meetings can make the difference between a top-performing workforce and anemic results.

And yet, many companies put little to no care into how they meet. For them, meetings are simply one of many unexamined habits—a thing you do at work because that’s what you do—rather than a communication system designed with intention.

So who’s responsible for making sure all these meetings work well?

Communication Architecture is the CEO’s Responsibility

“Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company. The architecture might include the organizational design, meetings, processes, email, yammer and even one-on-one meetings with managers and employees. Absent a well-designed communication architecture, information and ideas will stagnate and your company will degenerate into a bad place to work.”

– Ben Horowitz, partner of Andreessen Horowitz

Meetings form the foundation of a company’s communication architecture. Your company may meet often, you may meet less, but whatever your cadence, meetings create the moments when all the swirling mayhem flowing through your email and chat gets focused and formed into action.

If your company meets out of habit instead of by design, you need to change that now. Here’s how to get started.

1. Recognize that there are no “meetings”.

The Stanford Business School online MBA program teaches aspiring leaders strategic planning, design thinking, and negotiation skills. Every one of these skills gets used to run meetings, and yet the word “meeting” is completely absent from the Stanford course descriptions.

Anything simply called a “meeting” lacks the clarity needed to deliver results. You may need a strategic planning workshop, a progress check on client projects, or a contract negotiation with a vendor, but you don’t ever need to “just meet”.

The first step in crafting a successful approach to meetings, or a meetings operating system, is to identify the specific kinds of meetings that are strategically aligned to the needs of your business.

2. Get a system. Work the system.

The meetings operating system for your business should include a central series of meetings used to set the strategy and keep teams aligned, and a plan for meetings within each business unit.

Once you recognize the need for a meetings system, you can readily find examples to adopt.

Agile teams, for example, use a well-defined meetings system for managing projects. Mid-sized businesses embrace the meetings systems embedded in the EOSGGOB, and Scaling Up business operating systems. Systems for running sales meetings are as abundant as bunnies.

3. Prioritize decision quality and velocity.

Good meetings bring so many potential benefits that figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. Should you work to keep meetings short to maximize productivity? But then, what about team building? Maybe you need longer meetings with more time to build trust and improve team performance?

Meetings are complex, which is why so many leaders avoid tackling this challenge in the first place.

When in doubt, design for decision quality and velocity over everything else.

Decision quality should be your North Star. A quality decision is the best decision that will get implemented. To reach the best decision and secure commitment to executing it, your meetings need to engage everyone in constructive dialogue. Focusing on decision quality automatically builds trust, increases engagement, and drives better sales performance.

Then, when you know how to reach quality decisions in meetings, focus on speeding up. Increased decision velocity is a far more effective (and fun!) way to improve productivity than a bunch of silly rules about keeping meetings short.

Master Your Meetings to Master Your Business

Your business already invests heavily in meetings. Getting a positive ROI from those meetings is entirely within your control. By establishing a meetings operating system and intentionally designing the way your company meets, you can turn this investment into a powerful performance driver.

Even better: because you know most businesses do not have their act together here, your new meetings system will become a key competitive advantage.


About the Author

J. Elise Keith is the co-founder of Lucid Meetings and the author of Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization. For more information, please visit, www.lucidmeetings.com and connect with her on Twitter, @EliseID8.

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