Improve Your Organization's Effectiveness One Meeting at a Time

by Patty McManus

I saw a cartoon years ago that showed people sitting around a table looking bored and drinking coffee. The caption read: “Purpose of Today’s Meeting: Avoid Work and Eat Donuts.” I had a chuckle at the time, but also a painful twinge of recognition.

A recent Harvard Business Review article reported that 71% of surveyed senior leaders said their meetings were unproductive and inefficient, with poor outcomes and lost time for important work.* CEOs around the globe are scratching their heads, wondering why some of their best and brightest can’t leave a meeting with a decision that will stick. Increasingly, our clients are expressing big-time urgency about improving their virtual and in-person meetings.

For better or for worse, meetings reflect an organization’s ability to make decisions, forward initiatives, and foster staff commitment. Today’s accelerated global environment requires people to come together and figure things out…fast.

If your meetings could use some help, answering three questions will make a difference.

   1. Why are we here?

Ever wonder why your meetings get lost in tangents? Why people multi-task? Why decisions don’t get made? Nine times out of ten, it’s for lack of clear desired outcomes. If people aren’t clear about why they have gathered, why wouldn’t they meander or multi-task? To be clear, "Discuss the budget" is not a desired outcome. A good desired outcome completes the sentence "By the end of this meeting, we will have…"

   2. Who’s deciding what?

Many teams toil in indecision. They can’t reach agreement, so they keep meeting and talking and meeting and talking. After months of frustration in meetings, a physician leader walked into his team meeting and proposed a fallback for how they would proceed if the group couldn’t agree by a certain date. The relief of the team was palpable. That one act, and his disciplined follow-through, produced major improvements in the team’s ability to complete a critical project.

   3. How do we get everyone on board?

If two or more people come together to get something done, it’s a meeting. In high functioning organizations, discipline around meetings includes a shared set of practices that become second nature.

Start with a few meeting facilitation and decision-making practices that you can apply on an on-going basis.

  • Launch new initiatives with a charter that includes clear decision-making processes and meeting management guidelines.
  • Model what you want others to emulate by maintaining your own practice of meeting management. A little goes a long way when every meeting has desired outcomes, every decision gets clarified up front, and every meeting wrap-up includes an action plan that lists the what, the who, and the by-when. 
  • Invest in skills development, whether at the individual, team, or organizational level. Running good meetings is never easy, especially in the complexity of today’s organizational life. Collaboration takes skills that may not come naturally but can be learned. 

For guidance on a holistic, enterprise-wide approach to changing your meeting culture, reach out to us. We'd love to talk with you. 


*Perlow, Hadley, Eun. Stop the Meeting Madness. July–August 2017 issue (pp.62–69) Harvard Business Review.


Tags : meeting management meetings collaboration