#031 - MEETING MANIA is rampant these days. Some people swear by meetings. Others swear at them. You, in your role as leader, are sure to have your share of meetings throughout your career. Join host Dr. Charles Boyer for some ways to help tame that Meeting Mania Monster.
Hello and welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast Serving Leaders Serving Others. This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s most certainly YOU, my friend. If you are a new or newer leader, or are joining this podcast for the first time, a special welcome to you. And, if you are a returning listener, a very warm welcome back! I’m so glad you’re here for this episode. Thank you, listeners, for more than 3,000 downloads of these podcasts from more than 30 countries around the globe! I am amazed, and most grateful. Thank you again and again!
Serving Leaders Serving Others is what we’re all about. In this series of podcasts, my goal is to serve you, the leader, helping you serve others through sharing ideas, helpful hints, suggestions, inspiration, insights, encouragement and sometimes a laugh or two to lighten the load along the way.
So, here we go with Episode #31, and it’s about Meeting Mania. Meeting Mania – that’s a peculiar disease that affects nearly everyone these days, causing us to lose our good sense about the need for yet another meeting. Some people swear by meetings. Others swear at them. Some people look forward to the next meeting. Others look for ways to avoid it. Some people think that meetings are good ways to use people’s time. Others think meetings are good ways to waste everyone’s time. Whatever your thoughts are on the matter of meetings, you, in your role as leader, are sure to have your share of them throughout your career. I think I’ve had more than my share. I would have finished this podcast yesterday, but I had three meetings, and I’m an old retired guy!
Meeting Mania is running rampant these days. Especially during the COVID pandemic, meetings – virtual meetings, but meetings nevertheless – increased dramatically. One study reported that meetings tripled in number – tripled!! And along with that increase in the number of meetings, the report showed a tendency for those meetings to be less effective. Do you wonder why? More isn’t always better, that’s for sure!
American author and humorist Dave Barry wrote: “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings.”
One study estimated that 24 billion – that’s with a B, Billion – hours are wasted each year in unproductive meetings, and that there are about 55 million meetings taking place in the United States each week – 55 million! And what happens in those meetings? Well, meeting attendees reported that 39% of them daydreamed during the meeting, 91% slept, 73% multi-tasked, and 96% missed the meetings whenever they could.
The percentages add up to more than 100%, which means that people reported more than one of those activities during the meeting. It was estimated that just 11% of meetings are productive, and that means that 89% of them aren’t. What’s wrong with this picture? Meeting Mania, that’s what.
I was in a committee meeting at church years ago, and the minister said, “Do we need another meeting to plan the next meeting?” I couldn’t believe what my ears heard! What’s wrong with this picture? Meeting Mania, that’s what.
A recent article on LinkedIn reported that on average, employees spend at least three hours a week in meetings, and that since the year 2000, time spent in meetings has increased by 8 – 10% each year. Another article reported that meetings cost companies about $100 million dollars a year. What’s wrong with this picture? Meeting Mania, that’s what.
Let’s face it – meetings are not going away. I’m afraid the Meeting Mania disease is incurable, but it doesn’t have to be terminal, as the title of Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death by Meeting, suggests. (By the way, in spite of the catchy title, the book is really a helpful resource for new and experienced leaders). Now, I should insert a disclaimer here - I’m not a physician, and perhaps I shouldn’t characterize “Meeting Mania” as a disease. It’s not a diagnosis - just an illustration. Describe it as a “monster” if you wish. So now, let’s look at some ways you can help keep the Meeting Mania Monster at bay:
· First of all, let’s admit that meetings are an expensive and inefficient way to get things done. People love to talk, to bluster, to posture, and what better place than a meeting with a captive audience? If you look at all this puffery in terms of the salaries being paid, the meeting has an enormous cost. Some preliminary figures from 2022 are to allow at least $50 per person per hour, and it’s very likely more expensive than that now. For example, if you call a one-hour meeting of 10 people, that one hour costs your company at least $500 in company paid time. A weekly meeting for 50 weeks? It would cost your company $25,000 per year. Ask yourself – is this meeting worth the expense? Even meetings of volunteers can be costly. In 2022, the value of volunteer time was calculated at $29.95 per hour, and I’m sure that value has increased more recently. So, even though their volunteer time is free, figure the cost of the meeting. For example, a committee meeting of 10 volunteers would cost $299.50 per hour. Ask yourself – is this meeting worth the expense? The takeaway? Be a good steward of everyone’s time, and count the cost when you plan to schedule a meeting.
· Begin with the end in mind. What do you most want to accomplish with this meeting? If you can’t answer that clearly and concisely, you don’t need to waste everyone’s time with a meeting that goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing.
· What’s on the agenda? What points do you intend to discuss? What is first, then next, and so on. What do people need to bring with them to the meeting and be prepared to discuss? If you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a need to meet. The old Roberts’ Rules of Order was a template to help people learn how to manage a meeting, and to give meeting participants a clear idea of what was planned. Your agenda need not be so rigid, but at the very least you need to have a clearly laid-out plan for the meeting to move from point to point in an orderly fashion.
· Since you have developed an agenda, stick to it. Don’t let someone derail the conversation or the discussion. People are very good at thinking up other things to talk about. Take note of those things, but put them on the agenda under “New Business” or whatever title you choose. Good ideas can be captured and discussed later without derailing the agenda.
· What’s the time frame? Is this going to be a short meeting, a longer meeting, or a marathon? People need to know what to expect and how much time and energy to devote to the meeting. In my opinion, the shorter, the better. Get the items discussed and get on with it. Of course, some things will need a lot more time to discuss than others. Plan for it. And make sure everyone knows what time frame is planned for.
· Part of the Meeting Mania trap is scheduling automatic, recurring meetings. That is, planning that this committee will meet every Tuesday at 2:00 PM. If you must do this, also build in some flexibility. If there’s no pressing business, cancel the meeting or adjourn early. Your colleagues will praise you for it!
· Follow the KISS principle: Keep It Short and Simple. Remember that most people’s attention span is about 18 minutes. That’s one reason that I limit these podcasts to about 15 minutes. When you see eyes beginning to glaze over, it’s time to change the routine and move on. It was said that Henry Ford used to have stand-up meetings with his management team. It kept meetings short and to the point, that’s for sure!
· Another part of the Meeting Mania trap is adjourning the meeting without some sort of summary. Build in time near the end of the meeting for a quick review of the main points discussed, decisions reached, and especially action items to be completed, together with an end date clearly established. An action item without a completion date is just a good wish.
· Evaluate – honestly - how effective the meeting was. We’ve all heard of R.O.I., the initials for Return On Investment. An article by Antoine Durand described R.O.T.I., or Return On Time Investment, and he suggested a five-point rating scale of 1 (Useless) to 5(Excellent) to evaluate how the meeting was worth the time invested in it. Do you wonder how many meetings earn a 5 rating from participants?
Just to let you know that I really try to practice what I preach, here’s a quick recap of this episode: Meetings may be here to stay, but we can at least make them a little more palatable by clarifying the purpose for the meeting, organizing it well, keeping things moving along during the meeting, summarizing the results, and being good stewards of everyone’s time and energy. You, as leader, must set an example of good meeting management, rather than Meeting Mania. It's not easy, but you can do it. Good luck to you. And now, I’m off to another meeting.
No, not really. I do want to take a minute to ask you three open-ended questions to help you summarize what we’ve talked about in this episode. Here they are:
1. On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being Useless and 5 being Excellent, how would you rate the Return On Time Invested in the last three meetings you have participated in?
2. In your opinion, what one thing would have most improved those meetings?
3. What is one takeaway from this podcast that will help you improve your next meeting?
Thanks for being with me for this episode. I hope it has been helpful to you. I’ve thought about what special key is appropriate for this episode, and of course, there’s no Key of M. So, let’s pick two keys: the Key of B and the Key of C. The Key of B is for Be a good steward of everyone’s time, and the Key of C for Count the Cost when you get the urge to schedule another meeting.
In the next episode, we’ll talk about some of the effects NOISE can have on us and how NOISE can affect the quality of your work – and for that matter, your life as well.
Until then, please stay safe and well, my friend, and good luck with keeping that Meeting Mania Monster at bay!