Are you ready to run an effective meeting, save time, money and your sanity?
If you want to become a better meeting leader then ask yourself the following questions.
What would happen if we cut 5% of the most useless meetings across all organizations around the world today?
What would happen if we captured the actual process that takes place within our most innovative meetings, and then repeated that process over and over again?
How much more productive would millions of leaders, employees and volunteers become if they didn’t have to attend another soul-sucking meeting?
With all that extra time perhaps they could:
- Deliver better service to their customers and community
- Upgrade their professional development training (so we can have more effective CEOs, doctors, engineers, geologists, administrators, project managers etc.)
- Avoid burn-out, because if they could cut out the worst meetings in the daytime then they could get more work done, and then they wouldn’t have to do as much work at night, which would allow them to have a more balanced life with their kids, spouse, parents and friends – and not get burned out
5 Meeting 'Truths' And How To Fix Them
In this article you’ll learn these 5 ‘truths’ about meetings:
- We don’t know the real cost of our meetings
- That meeting should have been an email
- Having a title doesn’t mean you know how to run a meeting
- It’s OK to be late for a meeting
- We’re burning out our best people by sending them to too many daytime meetings
You’ll also learn the 5 most effective meeting leadership skills that professionals can use to deal with them:
- Measure your total meeting cost per hour $
- Connect your meetings to your organization strategy
- You can choose how you act during a meeting
- Lock the door when the meeting starts
- Cut out your worst meetings
Now, if you use the new facilitation skills that you learn in this post to take action and make one small improvement to your next meeting, it will be like dropping a pebble in the pond.
The ripple effect from creating more effective meetings will not only inspire your team and help you get more accomplished, but it will also help you begin to transform your entire organization so you can ultimately serve your customers and your community at a higher level.
The 'Effective Meetings Professional Development Workshop'
Meeting Truth #1 - We Don't Know The Real Cost Of Our Meetings
Around the world bad meetings cost billions.
According to BusinessInsider.com, unproductive meetings cost more than $37 billion dollars every year in the United States alone!
If we extrapolate that impact for the global economy it’s possible to say that more than $1 trillion dollars are being wasted on bad meetings each year.
In a $100 trillion dollar global economy, are we giving up 1% to bad meetings, an activity that we all have the ability to change?
So now let’s apply that 1% benchmark to a large organization example, and because I live in Alberta, Canada, I will refer to Alberta Health Services (AHS).
AHS has an average annual budget of $22 billion cdn.
So it’s possible that unproductive meetings are costing AHS $22 million (1% of $22 billion) every year!
Here’s another way to look at it.
AHS employs more than 100,000 people.
If each person attends 2 meetings per week at an average of 4 people per meeting, that would be be the equivalent of 200,000 meetings divided by 4 = approximately 50,000 meetings per week.
If we multiply 50,000 x 50 weeks per year, then there could be 2.5 million meetings per year at AHS.
At an average cost of $200 per meeting (a conservative estimate), then it is reasonable to say that AHS is spending $500,000,000 dollars per year on meetings alone!
What would happen if AHS cut 5% of its least productive meetings?
Then they would have $25 million worth of resources to re-allocate to other activities like patient care, improving emergency room wait times, staff training and more.
Not only could they get more done, but they could also improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover because their staff would no longer feel like their time was being wasted in unnecessary meetings.
With that example in mind, here’s what can you do to take control of meeting costs within your organization.
Fix #1 - Measure Your Total Meeting Cost Per Hour $
Here’s a quick formula you can use to measure the hourly cost of your own meetings.
+ Total hourly wages
+ Total room cost per hour
= Total meeting cost per hour
+ 4 People @ $50/hr = $ 200
+ Room cost = $ 75
+ Lunch = $ 25
Total Meeting Cost 1 hr. = $ 300
Once you realize how much meetings actually cost per hour, then you can take action so that you make every second count.
Fix 1A - Measure The Total Meeting Cost Per Year $
Now that you understand your total meeting cost per hour, you can estimate your total meeting cost per year.
A department with 12 employees
- If each employee attends 2 meetings per week with an average of 4 people per meeting = 6 meetings per week within the department
- If each meeting averages 2 hours = 12 meeting hours per week within the department
- So, 12 meeting hours per week X 50 weeks = 600 meeting hours per year within the department
- 600 hours per year X $300 per hour = $18,000 per year spent on meetings within the department
Then your senior leader can ask, “Did we get $18,000 dollars worth of value from those meetings?”
True Story: 50% Meetings Reduction = 1 Extra Day A Month For A Department Manager
After reading my book called the Meeting Leadership Solution, a project manager in healthcare was inspired to go to his department manager and ask,
“Why do we need to meet for an update meeting for 1 hour every week? Couldn’t we meet for an hour every 2nd week instead?”
His manager responded reluctantly by saying, “But we’ve always done it this way…” and then she reconsidered and said, “Well OK, we’ll try it…”
Guess what happened?
They’ve been meeting every 2nd week to do updates ever since!
And his manager liked this so much that she started doing it with her other direct reports.
This saved her an average of 2 hours per month per employee, which gave her back a full day per month to do her other work!
What would you do with an extra work day every month?
Once Professionals understand the actual cost of their meetings then they can begin to ask important questions like:
- Could we cut 5% of the least productive meetings, and use the extra time to let staff do more impactful work?
- Which meetings are producing the best results?
- How can we repeat what is happening in our best meetings?
Year-end financial statements don’t include a line item for meeting costs – but they could!
So ask your accountant to set this up, or find another way. Then you’ll understand the real cost of your meetings and you’ll be able to take action!
Meeting Truth #2 - That Meeting Should Have Been An Email
Have you ever walked out of a meeting and said, “that meeting should have been an email instead of a meeting.”
Knowing ‘why’ you should have a meeting is critical.
But sometimes Professionals end up meeting for the sake of meeting (and not getting anything accomplished).
This happens for a variety of reasons including:
- No agenda
- Poor facilitation
- A corporate culture in which people accept that ‘meeting for meeting’s sake’ is just part of their job
But what would happen if every meeting you attended was highly productive because you understood ‘why’ you were there?
Fix #2 - Connect Your Meetings To Your Organization Strategy
In a great meeting, everyone knows why they are there.
The best way to find your ‘why’ is to connect your meetings directly to your organization strategy.
Here’s how you can do this:
At the beginning of every meeting, say the vision statement for your organization out loud.
Then, at the end of the meeting, spend a few minutes confirming whether or not the meeting you just had moved your vision forward.
If it did, then it was a great meeting. If it didn’t, then you’ve probably wasted your time in that meeting.
Let’s say you’re on a team of 10 people at Alberta Health Services (AHS).
At the beginning of your next meeting you would say, “Our vision is Healthy Albertans. Healthy Communities. Together“.
Then you would conduct your meeting.
At the end you would spend the last five minutes discussing whether or not your meeting served at least one aspect of this vision.
For example, if you had been discussing ways to improve team communication, then clearly you would be serving the ‘together’ theme from the AHS vision statement.
But if you spent an hour talking about the gluten-free hot dog issue for the summer staff bar-b-q (and I’ve actually been in that meeting), then it is likely that you didn’t do anything to move the vision forward.
After you do this exercise for a few meetings you and your team will develop a new standard that will guarantee that every meeting has a definite ‘why’.
Then you won’t ever have to say “that meeting should have been an email” again.
You don’t just have to state your vision out loud at the beginning of a meeting.
You could also state your key strategic objectives or shared values and then be accountable to them at the end of your meeting.
Connecting Your Meetings To Your Strategy Will Transform Your Organization
Another benefit of connecting your meetings to your strategy is that you will create a frequent feedback loop with the senior leaders who are responsible for your organization’s strategic plan.
This is because you will be connecting every meeting that you are in to your organization’s ‘big picture’.
The advantage of this is that you will know whether or not the strategic plan is achievable on a weekly or monthly basis, and you’ll have the opportunity to let senior leaders know whether or not their plan is on track.
This is a powerful way to improve the strategic planning process, which is typically done every three years and only reviewed once a year.
Let’s say one of your organization’s strategic objectives is to increase sales by 30% in one year.
Initially you would state this objective out loud at the beginning of a meeting.
Then you would refer back to that objective at the end of the meeting.
If you actually had a great meeting about this issue that made you realize that a 30% target increase was impossible, then you would be able to tell senior leaders about this discrepancy right away.
Frequent feedback about key strategic objectives will enable the senior leaders to adjust their targets in the short term, instead of waiting for the annual strategic planning review to take action.
Connecting every meeting directly to the organization strategy is a game changer that will inspire your staff, improve productivity and enable you to serve patients at a higher level.
You should be able to stop any meeting, at any moment, and connect that moment directly to your organizational strategy.
Meeting Truth #3 - Having A Title Doesn't Mean You Know How To Run A Meeting
True Story: Don't Get Trapped In A Title
At one time in my corporate career I was an employee who was dying to become a manager (until I actually became a manager). When I got promoted I became the ‘Manager of Creative Services and Marketing’. It was a chunky title that went right to my head.
I couldn’t wait to facilitate my first weekly updates meeting for my department of nine people. Why? Because I couldn’t stand the way that this meeting had been run in the past, as in, 90 minutes of unstructured, no-agenda, overly social behaviour in which the talkers talked too much and the quiet people weren’t heard, and not much got done.
So, with title in hand, I ran that first weekly updates meeting in 9 minutes flat. Afterwards I was so proud of myself. I patted myself on the back for efficiently using everybody’s time so they could get back to doing their regular work faster. In my mind I was a great meeting leader.
That 9 minute meeting made everyone in the room mad. The shift from a 90-minute update meeting to a 9-minute update meeting had been too dramatic, and it took many months to regain their trust. Obviously getting a new title didn’t magically mean that I had the meeting leadership skills I desperately needed.
How Are Your Meetings Going?
What’s your title? CEO. Board Chair. Chief of Surgery. Vice President. Executive Director. Dean. Project Manager, Department Head…
- How many meetings per week do you have to lead?
- How effective are your meetings?
If your meetings aren’t going the way you want them to, then maybe you need to learn some new meeting leadership skills.
Fix #3 - You Can Choose How You Act During A Meeting
Great meetings start with you.
Whether you’re the leader or the follower you have to take responsibility for the way you act during a meeting.
So in a meeting are you:
- On your phone
- Talking too much
- Unwilling to follow-up
Or are you:
- On time
- Ready to contribute
- An exceptional listener
- Taking action
Now obviously there is a lot more to learn about becoming an outstanding meeting leader.
But the basic starting point is to be self-aware and choose productive actions that inspire your team.
If you get promoted and have start leading meetings, then build in 6-8 hours of facilitation training in the first two months that you are in your new role. This will enable you to become an effective facilitator that can inspire your team and get more accomplished.
Meeting Truth #4 - It's OK To Be Late For A Meeting
What would happen if nobody was ever late for one of your meetings again?
- How much time would be saved?
- How many more patients could you help with that extra time?
- What sort of positive impact would this simple fix have on staff morale?
Broken Windows Theory
In 1982 James Q. Wilson and George Kelling introduced the ‘broken windows theory‘.
These academics referred to broken windows as a metaphor for all the minor crimes that are committed in neighbourhoods.
They theorized that if police reduced these minor crimes, that it would lead to an overall reduction in major crimes.
The most notable application of this theory happened in New York City in the early 1990’s when the New York City Police cracked down on minor crimes like drinking in public, panhandling, vandalism etc.
By 1996 the homicide rate had been cut in half and felonies were down 40% (see Brittanica.com for more details)
Broken Meetings Theory
So what would happen if organizations applied the same logic and created the ‘broken meetings theory’.
Broken meetings would become the metaphor for all minor productivity losses that occur within an organization.
If senior leaders reduced minor productivity problems like being late or not being prepared for meetings, then that could set the stage for major productivity gains throughout the organization.
True Story: Meeting Leader Stops Latecomers By Locking The Door
I once interviewed a senior leader named Larry who had been an executive in charge of a $500 million dollar operations portfolio in education.
He was a busy guy who had to run a lot of meetings.
Want to know how he dealt with latecomers?
He locked the door when the meeting started.
In fact, one time, he locked the door at 9am when one of his meetings started.
And guess who was late?
And do you think Larry opened the door to let his boss in?
And guess how many times this happened?
And did Larry get chewed out by his boss?
But after that his boss was never late for one of Larry’s meetings – and his boss also started locking the door at the beginning of his meetings too!
Fix #4 - Lock The Door When The Meeting Starts
If you want to stop people from being late for meetings, then lock the door when the meeting starts.
Of course, some people will be upset in the short term.
But once everybody on your team starts coming on time for every meeting, then they will also start to arrive better prepared and the overall trust level will go up and your team will get way more done.
Once you solve the minor meeting crime of lateness across the organization, then you can begin to tackle your major productivity issues.
Before you start locking the door at the beginning of your meetings, let your team know that this is going to happen.
This will reduce the shock for the first person who is inappropriately late.
It will also inspire your high achievers (who are always on time) because they will finally see that their senior leader is making a real effort to value their time.
Meeting Truth #5 - We're Burning Out Our Best People By Sending Them To Too Many Daytime Meetings
When it comes to our health, high blood pressure is the ‘silent killer’.
When it comes to our organizations, ‘too many meetings’ is the silent killer of our best employees.
Here’s what I mean.
From managers to CEOs, we are swamping our best people with too many meetings during the daytime. This forces them to finish their regular work at night.
These senior leaders are getting burned out by 12 hour days, but because of their A-type personalities, they won’t admit that they are overloaded.
How do I know this?
True Story: Senior Leader In 25 Meetings Per Week!
Whenever I teach a workshop or deliver a keynote speech I always ask the audience to do this:
- I say “Please raise your hand if you are in at least one meeting per week.” And of course, everyone in the audience holds up their hand.
- Next I say, “Now please keep your hand in the air if you are in at least two meetings per week.” And pretty much everyone keeps their hand in the air.
- Then I say, “Now I’m going to continue counting, so please keep your hand in the air if you’re in at leasts 3 meetings per week – 4 meetings per week – 5, 6, 7…
I can always tell who the middle managers in the audience are because they keep their hands up until I count up to around 8.
Next it’s the senior leaders who indicate that they are in at least 12 meetings per week.
And guess what the record is for the most weekly meetings attended by a senior leader… 25!
You should have seen the look on this poor over-achiever’s face as they kept their hand up and admitted that they were in at least 25 meetings every week. Stunned.
How much nighttime work do they have to do to keep up? How is their personal life going as a result of being sent to too many daytime meetings?
Fix #5 - Cut Out Your Worst Meetings
If you want to retain top talent in your organization, then it’s time to have an honest conversation about the number of meetings they have to attend.
Here’s a few suggestions about how to get started.
- Your CEO should ask their team to submit a list of all they meetings they attend during any given week
- The CEO could then have brief 1×1 meetings with each senior leader to review their meeting list
- Then, both the CEO and the senior leader should cut out or shorten the least necessary meetings
- About a month later the senior leader should report back to the CEO about the impact of this action
- Then the senior leader could begin this process with their direct reports (and soon, the worst meetings throughout the organization will be eliminated!)
And while you’re cutting out your worst meetings, make sure to take stock of what’s happening in your best meetings, as in:
- Who was in the meeting?
- Why was the meeting so effective?
- Could the conditions of an outstanding meeting be repeated?
- How much more could we get done if we had more effective meetings more often?
- Would better meetings improve staff morale and ultimately client outcomes?
Before you hire new people into your organization, try this:
- Identify and cancel unproductive meetings
- Assign the people from those cancelled meetings to do the work that you were going to hire a new person to do
Not only will this save your organization money, it will also inspire the people who used to feel that their time was being wasted in useless meetings, because now they will be doing valuable work instead.
If you take action and apply just one meeting improvement from this article, then you will have dropped a pebble in your own organizational pond.
The ripple effect of this action will be felt throughout your organization, and ultimately lead to better client and community outcomes.
By taking action you’ll also begin to:
- Save millions of dollars
- Save your sanity
- Improve staff satisfaction and retention
- Put a smile on the face of everyone on your meeting team and more