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“The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favour of holding meetings,” said American economist Thomas Sowell.
While his comment may have been a scathing remark on the way corporations are run, he wasn’t too far from the truth about the loss of productivity at the hands of ineffective meetings.
A study last month by Bain & Company showed that today’s top executives spend more than two days each week at meetings with three or more co-workers.
Moreover, the meetings are often scheduled “just because”, a reason that doesn’t quite make the mark, given that each meeting that starts just five minutes late costs a company 8% of the time that executives spend in it.
Last year, The New York Times tried to solve the problem many meetings face – too many people talking, with not enough taking notes, and the responsibility on one person to transcribe and send out the minutes of the meeting.
Working with François Chambard, of UM Project, NYT Labs created the Listening Table – an intelligent piece of furniture that actually hears and understands the conversations happening around it.
It uses speech transcription software and high-resolution sensors to facilitate understanding to generate a word-for-word record of the meeting as well as a semantic overview – what topics were talked about, in what order, and by whom.
When a meeting concludes, participants can see a high-level summary digest showing all the topics discussed, as well as a copy of the recording.
“It’s one thing to make a table that transcribes everything, and quite another to make a Table whose very appearance makes it obvious what it is doing,” stated NYT Labs, referring to the embedded, indirect lighting that indicates to passers-by that the Table is listening – and more importantly, recording.
Technology like this not only saves time in the administration of running a meeting, but reminds all attending persons to be mindful of what they say, instead of making tall claims and promises.
Another company invested more than CAD$3,000 about four months ago upgrading its meeting room to a Star Wars theme, as shared by a reddit user who is an employee.
Complete with an R2-D2 trash bin, Yoda photo frame, and toys depicting intergalactic combat hanging from the ceiling, along with custom wallpaper, the redesign aimed to inject some fun into the monotony a meeting brings.
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Yet another example came from a company I spoke to in the past year, which has a self-destruct facility on its light bulbs – as soon as the official meeting time is up, all lights switch off, forcing attendees to wrap up on time.
There is no denying that companies have tried to be creative in running meetings, but there are a few basic golden rules I have learnt from my experiences of attending awful as well as amazing meetings.
First up, make sure your meeting has an agenda. When the group MD at our firm took over the mandate of running better meetings, the first thing he did was create a template to run each and every meeting.
It seemed tedious at first, but now I can’t imagine going into a meeting without it. Everyone knows what they need to be prepared with and that additional thought they put into it can really help boost the output from the meeting.
One more lesson I have learnt for regular team meetings is to have a rotating chairman, giving everyone in the team a good chance to direct the conversation, while making sure the others don’t go off track.
Another overlooked aspect is the time of the meeting – having it first thing in the morning, or in the last 30 minutes of the work day, might just rouse the attendees to action, given they have their emails to attend to in the AM, and home to rush off to in the PM.
Finally, and this happens most often in conference calls, if you are presiding over the meeting, ensure that no one feels short-changed in not being able to give their views.
Group chatter is great for ideation, but it can also prevent some of the quieter ones from speaking up among the voice of the crowd.
If you find much of this doesn’t apply to you, keep it simple – run a meeting just the way that you would like one that you attend to be run.