I recently started doing some consultancy work for the film industry. Talking to the actors about how they prepare for a part, I learned that it was easy to judge how good a script is by their level of engagement. Actors will read a good script cover to cover. If a script does not interest an actor, they will learn only their lines, and ignore the rest. This approach is commonly expressed by the axiom ‘bullshit, bullshit, (referring to other speaking parts)…my line, bullshit’.
In other words, they prepare and perform by waiting for their turn to speak, and ignore everything else. If we are honest, many of us will recognise this approach is all too common among attendees at business meetings.
A European survey of managers in the UK, France and Germany published in September 2018 found that:
– The average employee spends over 4 hours per week in meetings, the equivalent of 23 days in a year, or more than 10% of their total time
– On average, employees consider 56% of the meetings they attend to be unproductive
– 66% of employees admit to making excuses to avoid meetings
Applying these figures to a moderate size business with 100 employees at the average UK salary translates to £1.775 million in wasted time per year.
Here at Vallum, our business coaching team has come up with some practical suggestions to make meetings more productive:
1. Efficiency. Short meetings are often more effective than long ones. The survey suggested that most employees think that 40 minutes is optimum. Vallum’s senior team meet for an average of 45 minutes every two weeks. We have a full team meeting that lasts about 20 minutes at the end of every Friday. Otherwise, we are happier talking to our clients!
2. Purpose. The meeting should have a clear purpose and be designed to deliver an outcome e.g. a monthly update on how the business is doing, a meeting to make a decision.
3. Planning. The survey revealed that it was common for up to 15 minutes of every other meeting to be wasted setting up the computers, screens, wi-fi etc. in a meeting room. This should be prepared in advance. Creature comforts (or the lack of them) can also be important for keeping meetings to time. At WAL-MART, the ‘standing up’ meeting was a common tool, both on and off the shop floor!
4. Preparation. It should go without saying that every meeting should have an agenda, circulated to each attendee beforehand. Any meeting that is designed for sharing management information about how the company is doing can be made exponentially more efficient by preparing and sharing the material in advance. If the purpose of the meeting is to make a decision, have all the relevant facts to hand, and all the key decision makers in attendance. Meeting that come up with unenforceable recommendations are not productive.
5. Engagement. Everyone attending the meeting should have clear reason for being there, and should have the opportunity (indeed the obligation) to contribute. Try to create an atmosphere where the team feel comfortable airing their idea, and challenges, and feel there are being listened to. It is a common experience for people to attend a meeting in silence, only to share their opinions (often negative) with anyone who will listen afterwards. This is not just unproductive, it is corrosive.
6. Positivity. Challenges and questions should be welcomes, but they should be presented in the right way. I am a big fan of an army practice called a ‘Chinese Parliament’ that is often done after a briefing. Anyone, regardless of rank and experience, can make any comment they wish, and tear down anyone else’s idea….so long as they bring an alternative suggestion.
7. Personnel. At the minimum, every meeting needs a chair, who will serve the agenda, ensure that every attendee contributes (and that none dominates), and keep the meeting to time. Every meeting also needs a note taker who will keep a record of what is agreed and who has committed to do what. A copy of these notes should be made available to all attendees afterwards.
8. Continuity. At regular meetings, it should be standard practice to review what attendees promised to deliver at the last meeting, and confirm that they have. Don’t be afraid to put people on the spot!
9. Timekeeping. Meeting should start on time and finish on time. A meeting of 8 people for one hour at the UK average salary costs £145 (not including the costs of the meeting room). This time is valuable and should be regarded as such.
10. No phones! This should go without saying, but it doesn’t. More than 25% of the survey responders admitted reading or sending e-mails and other messages while at a meeting. At any business that values respect for the individual, not to mention productivity, this must be beyond the pale. Returning to the film industry, one of the actors I met told me that when shooting ‘Avatar’ Director James Cameron allegedly had a rule, which he personally enforced, of attaching any phone ringing or chiming on set to the wall….with a nail gun. This is not a solution Vallum advocated…but we understand where he is coming from!