There's one activity in every company that impacts every employee, consumes between 30 percent and 80 percent of an employee's day, and drives the success or failure of all collaborative work.

It's a mind-boggling investment. And yet, most companies provide zero training and have no systems in place to ensure a return on all this time.

Meetings.

There are over 55 million meetings in the U.S. alone each day. They don't all go well. Estimates show the bad meetings productivity drain on the U.S. economy alone is well over $300 billion annually.

Of course, bad meetings do far more harm than wasting a bit of cash. Businesses with unhealthy meeting cultures suffer from:

  • Struggles with business development, sales, and customer relations. New business and customer loyalty depend on effective conversations in meetings. If you can't establish trust and value in these meetings, you can't sell.
  • Low employee engagement and retention. Bad meetings decrease performance and increase turnover. Research shows that the way managers lead meetings has a big impact on both employee satisfaction and retention.  
  • Bad decision making. Companies that make the wrong decisions in their meetings or that fail to make decisions quickly enough can't win. 

The effectiveness of a company's meetings can make the difference between a top-performing workforce and anemic results.

And yet, in many companies, meetings are simply one of many unexamined habits--a thing you do at work because that's what you do--rather than the foundation of a communication architecture designed with intention.

If your company meets out of habit instead of by design, you need to change that now. Here's how to get started:

1. Recognize that there are no "meetings."

You may need a strategic planning workshop, a progress check on client projects, or a contract negotiation with a vendor, but you don't ever need to "just meet." A successful approach to meetings starts when you identify the specific kinds of meetings that feed the needs of your business. Name them, and get a plan for running each one.

2. Get a system. Work the system.

Specifically, a meetings operating system (MOS). Your business's MOS should include, at a minimum, basic guidelines for all meetings and a plan for the meetings you'll use to set the strategy and keep teams aligned.

After that, look for systems you can adapt to help you achieve your business goals. Now that you know you need to get specific, you'll find lots of great resources.

Agile teams, for example, use a well-defined meetings system for managing projects. Search for agile project meeting templates, and you'll get all kinds of ideas. Systems for running sales meetings proliferate like bunnies.

3. Prioritize decision quality and velocity.

Good meetings bring so many potential benefits. Figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. Should you work to keep meetings short to maximize productivity? Or maybe you need to spend more time building trust and team relationships?

Meetings are complex, which is why so many leaders avoid tackling this challenge in the first place.

When in doubt, focus on decision quality and velocity. Decision quality should be your North star. A quality decision is the best decision that will get implemented. To reach the best decision and secure commitment to executing it, your meetings need to engage everyone in constructive dialogue.

Focusing on decision quality automatically builds trust, increases engagement, and drives better sales performance. Then, when you know how to meet and reach quality decisions, focus on speeding up. Increased decision velocity proves a more effective way to drive productivity than a bunch of silly rules about keeping meetings short. (And it's more fun--just ask Jeff Bezos.)

Your business already invests heavily in meetings. Getting a positive return from those meetings is entirely within your control. By intentionally designing the way your company meets, you can turn this investment into a powerful performance driver.

Even better: Because you know most businesses do not have their act together here, your new meetings operating system will become a key competitive advantage.

Published on: Nov 15, 2018