Turning bad meetings into productive ones

Blaire Palmer tells TJ what firms must do to get the best out of meetings

Meetings that aren’t productive are harming the long-term prospects and aspirations of organisations today, according to performance improvement specialist, That People Thing.

Speaking to TJ, the company’s CEO, Blaire Palmer, says that firms are wasting valuable resources and time in meetings that are not beneficial. She believes that companies need to think deeply about the agenda of the meeting before entering to make sure that productivity is maximised.

“Most people don’t have a good experience of meetings. They don’t know what a good one looks like. They accept that it has to be done but most of the time it’s boring and a waste of time, and they need to realise that it could be so much more,” she tells TJ.

“There are a few ways, however, that you can address it. The first angle is the agenda. Often very little thought is put into the meeting and the way it’s going to be explored. Most meetings are just a list of topics with each person speaking about one of the topics.

“Not every topic needs to be the same amount of time. At the same time, not every topic benefits from presentation and then questions and answers. Some benefit from questions being distributed before. In addition, important, strategic conversations normally take a few hours and require a creative moment.

“Another angle is ground rules. I believe that meetings can be a very easy place to switch off. You need some good ground rules to make sure everyone contributes in a productive manner. The best way to do this is for the team to work it out together. People are used to a typical format so trying to change it in itself could throw up problems. Bringing in a specialist to help facilitate the meeting could be of assistance. They can help people to speak honestly, foster creativity and generally make it a more innovative environment to be in.

“The ground rules do not always need to be standard. Sales team and HR teams for example differ. A sales environment tends to be more rough and tumble – more direct. This would be different to a HR team where it’s more about listening and feedback in that kind of environment.”

Research by Consumer Intelligence conducted for That People Thing looked at what managers thought made a great meeting. Their top priorities were:

  • Decision-making (59 per cent)
  • Debate and discussion (46 per cent)
  • Generating exciting new ideas (30 per cent)
  • Developing an understanding of what other people and other teams do (24 per cent)

But, what’s worrying is what people say is wrong with the meetings they go to –

  • People aren’t properly prepared (43 per cent)
  • Discussions go off topic (43 per cent)
  • Decisions are a foregone conclusion (34 per cent)
  • They don’t discuss the important issues (34 per cent)
  • Some people dominate and others don’t contribute (29 per cent)
  • No decisions are made (24 per cent)

Team meetings should not be nice and cosy – there should be conflict, debate as well as support and encouragement where necessary, according to Palmer.

“It’s very difficult to change the outlook of bad meetings without external help. When you bring in really skilled people they can help you save thousands in wasted time. It’s a very small investment which can help to make a massive difference in the long haul.

“This is important because meetings provide the perfect setting for identifying and addressing underlying problems in teams that prevent them being as creative, effective, impactful and successful as they can be. While the meeting may only represent a third of the working week, the lessons learnt by a team who have looked at themselves through this lens, understood how they get in their own way and how to fix that have implications for every part of their working lives,” she concludes.  



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