Ways of working are in a constant state of flux, and the upheaval of the pandemic has only accelerated the pace and concentration of change. In today’s business landscape, how can organisations not just keep up, but stay ahead of the curve and future-proof themselves? The answer is simple: data. As a Transformation Director and business advisor with over 20 years of experience in large scale back office transformation, Michael Hyltoft is an expert in using data and AI to drive and execute change. He shares his unique insights and advice in using data to add value in this five-part series.

Meetings are an integral part of the day-to-day work of an organisation, but they can also be a source of frustration and wasted time. As discussed in part three of this series, Collaborative working practices,’ almost three-quarters of senior managers believe that meetings are unproductive and inefficient. They don’t have to be.

It is possible for organisations to nip this trend – which is increasing in the wake of the pandemic – in the bud. We can find the solutions we need in the data. We’re not talking about looking at individual meetings and assessing their efficiency. Instead, you need to look holistically and measure what types of meetings your organisation has, how long they are and who attends them, and then use that information to assess whether they are value-adding.

The information you gather will provide insights into your organisation and allow you to identify areas for improvement. If there are too many decision-making meetings, perhaps the team needs supplemental training on decision-making techniques? Are meetings overrunning on a regular basis, or being scheduled for unnecessarily long periods of time? Perhaps these can be curtailed, saving on time and resources. Ultimately, taking such steps now will give you the opportunity to make changes that lead to more efficient and productive meetings, enhanced communication and collaboration, overarching cultural change and even benefits to your bottom line.

Types of meetings

In order to improve the calibre of meetings, it’s important to understand the different types – and the value they can bring to your organisation.

  • One-on-one meetings: Typically used to discuss specific topics or issues related to a project or work-related matter (including sharing sensitive or confidential information, feedback or concerns), they provide a great opportunity for management to check-in with the team and provide guidance and support.
  • Decision-making meetings: Often small in size and focused on making important decisions related to a project or business initiative. They’re critical to effective working processes and the success of an organisation.
  • Status update meetings: Generally brief and held on a regular basis, these meetings are aimed at keeping everyone on a project or initiative informed and on track. They’re an opportunity for team members to share their progress, discuss any roadblocks and coordinate next steps. They’re particularly useful in the current working landscape, with more employees working remotely.
  • All-hands meetings: Typically large in size, they focus on communicating important information or updates to the entire organisation. These meetings give leadership the chance to share company updates, announcements and strategic plans (and foster a sense of community in the process).
  • Workshop meetings: These are hands-on meetings where attendees come together to brainstorm, problem-solve and share ideas or develop strategies. Workshops are a great way to get input and feedback from a wide range of stakeholders and can be a valuable tool for organisations.

Meeting red flags

As you start to gather data, the red flags we’re looking for are meetings with: long durations; too many attendees; double bookings or lack of attendance; or too many recurrences. Let’s take a look at these indicators in more detail.

1. Lengthy meetings

Meetings that either run long accidentally, or are scheduled for a long period of time, can be less productive due to their duration. Not to mention the fact that they’re likely to be frustrating for attendees who feel that their time is being wasted. To avoid lengthy meetings and ensure efficiency, it's important to set a clear agenda and to stick to it. Long meetings may, however, be a sign that there are deeper issues with the project or initiative – this is worth exploring in more detail to get to the root of the issue.

2. Bloated meetings

It's important to carefully consider who truly needs to be involved in a discussion for meetings to be productive and efficient. With a large number of attendees, meetings run the risk of falling foul of the age-old adage of “too many cooks.” Unless there is a clear purpose or agenda, or one clear leader, there can simply be too many voices in the room.

Another thing to watch out for is whether three or more reporting levels are present in the same meeting. Although there can be benefits to this (personal development, for example), more often that not, this is an unnecessary concentration of leadership. It can be confusing, inefficient and make it hard to determine accountability.

3. Low engagement meetings

These can come about for a wide range of reasons, including a lack of objectives or opportunities for active participation, poor communication, preparation or management, or a mismatch of attendee interests or expectations.

The first signs of a low engagement meeting happen before the meeting even begins – attendees don’t confirm or actively decline the meeting. Double bookings are a particular indicator. If the meeting goes ahead, the time spent waiting for other attendees is pure time wasted (and can be damaging for relationships), and it’s particularly disruptive if it involves the decision-maker. Moreover, double booking meetings can also create a lack of accountability, as well as a lack of ownership and follow-through on the tasks and decisions made during the meetings, with things getting pushed to the “next meeting”.

Multitasking during meetings can also be a productivity killer. And while it’s not a new phenomenon, in today’s working world, with many meetings now being held virtually, it is common. After all, virtual meetings can be run back-to-back with hardly a break in between, leaving employees to send emails, communicate with others via chat functions, and more in order to stay up to date with their tasks.

I’ve gathered data from meetings where the number of emails sent per attendee averaged around 12, but it’s simply not possible to have an effective or productive meeting with that kind of activity taking place. Attendees won’t be fully focused or listening, and may not therefore understand or agree on decisions or action items, leading to delays and confusion in implementing plans and hindering progress on projects. All of this can also negatively impact team dynamics and morale.

4. Recurring meetings

Regular meetings (such as staff, management, or team meetings) can be beneficial for keeping people informed and on track, but it's important to evaluate their need and effectiveness to make sure they remain productive and efficient, and make the best use of your resources, resulting in better outcomes overall.

One way of doing this is to correlate your recurring meetings with their meeting type (both positive and negative). The research suggests that quality one-on-one meetings have myriad benefits, and holding them regularly can be helpful, so you’d expect a recurring one-on-one meeting not to raise many red flags. However, a bloated or low engagement meeting would not be one you want to see happening on a regular basis. I once correlated the data for a company that had a recurring CEO meeting, which started during the pandemic as a way to keep the company connected and calm. As the situation levelled, the meetings continued, purely out of force of habit, despite the majority of attendees getting frustrated. I recommended they reduce the frequency of these meetings as a first step (by 75%), and an immediate improvement in engagement was visible.

Ultimately, proper preparation and management is key for such meetings staying on the right side of efficiency and helping avoiding meeting fatigue. But it’s vital that you keep checking back and evaluating whether they need to be adapted – or whether they are necessary at all. Remember that recurring meetings, when properly managed, can also bring significant financial benefits to an organisation so it’s important to stay on top of them. Keeping team members informed and facilitating communication and improving coordination, for example, can help reduce errors and improve efficiency, leading to cost savings.

Ideas to make your meetings more effective

Armed with the data, you will have a better picture of the types of meeting your organisation uses and areas where improvements can be made, but there are general improvements that everyone can benefit from. The below are some of the best practices I’ve encountered in measuring and evaluating the data for organisations across the business spectrum.

  • Carefully consider the number (and reporting level) of attendees. Who actually needs to be present?
  • Clearly define, set and share an agenda, and stick to it (including establishing a clear decision-making process).
  • Start and end on time – respecting each others’ time is invaluable.
  • Encourage active listening and open communication.
  • Communicate after the meeting to make sure everyone’s on the same page with regards to next steps and encourage accountability. You can also, if you’re still in the data-gathering stage, send out a survey to assess the meeting in order to make improvements for next time.
  • Offer training to your team. Professional development in this area is always useful.

The next instalment in the ‘Driving change with data’ series will dive into time spent with your customers and how it can best be measured and optimised.


Written by

Michael Hyltoft

Michael Hyltoft is an accomplished Supply Chain Finance Director, Transformation Director and Advisor with over 20 years’ experience in delivering large scale transformation programmes focusing on the back office.

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