Take 1 – Action! Meeting Culture and Productivity

December 19, 2019
Author: Tyran Saffold Jr

Do you think your employees would rather go to a movie or a meeting? For most employees, they’d probably choose popcorn over pie charts. If the majority of your team dreads meeting time, there could be a more serious problem within the organization. Have you evaluated the effectiveness of your meetings?

Improving Meeting Culture and Team Productivity

Another Meeting?

Meetings, at times, can be viewed as loathsome, boring and sometimes, unproductive. During a study by the Harvard Business Review (HBR), 182 senior managers expressed how they felt about meetings.

  • 65% believed meetings kept them from completing their own work.
  • 71% felt meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
  • 64% felt meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
  • 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.

“I’d say that CEO is failing,” said Patrick Lencioni, New York Times best-selling author, in response to his feelings towards CEOs who feel meetings are a waste of time.

“Anyone who leads and manages people needs to understand that meetings are critical to any organization, and there is no good excuse for bad ones. A bad meeting is a function of its leader.”

There are signs that your meeting is losing your team's interest. Research by Dr. Albert Mehabrian suggests that the non-verbal aspect of communication will deliver 93 percent of your entire message. Body language reveals underlying emotions, motives and feelings. If your team is slouched in their seats, holding side-bar conversations or fiddling with their electronic devices, there is a strong chance that they are disengaged.

In Lencioni's book, “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team,” one of the main characters, Kathryn, explains how a business meeting should at least be as interesting as a movie.

Scene One: Lights, Camera, Action!

Movies typically run about two hours long. Meetings often last around the same length. In one, you sit and watch people interact on screen. In the other, people can get up and interact with each other.

Kathryn explains in the book, “More importantly, movies have no real impact on our lives. They don’t require us to act a certain way based on the outcome of the story. Yet, meetings are both interactive and relevant. We get to have our say, and the outcome of any given discussion often has a very real impact on our lives.”

A productive meeting requires a level of engagement from each participant. If a participant is struggling to contribute, that could raise larger concerns. One may involve a lack of job-related knowledge, a lack of psychological security to speak up, or worse—they could be a bad culture fit.

“If you are not adding anything to the meeting, you have to begin to question why you are there. If you don’t have input about the topics being discussed, then you shouldn’t have been there to begin with,” said Ronald, a CEO of a Texas software company.

He explains how some people can become disengaged during a meeting and come to the conclusion that they are “pointless or boring” like the majority of CEOs presented in the HBR survey. “You don’t have to go to every meeting. If someone asks you to join, you have to understand what will be discussed and then determine if you can add value to it. Don’t just go to a meeting for the sake of going. You have to know your purpose and participation will lend to the objective.”

The first step to a successful meeting is engagement. The second step? Embracing conflict.

Scene Two: Introducing Conflict

Whether it is an action movie, drama or comedy, there is always one element required for a good plot line—conflict. “When we lead meetings, we need to think more like directors and screenwriters. We need to give our people something to care about, something worth engaging in conflict over,” said Lencioni.

He continued, “We need to raise their level of anxiety about what could go wrong if we don’t engage. And, we need to raise these issues at the beginning of our meetings before our audience checks out and starts thinking about what movie they're going to see that night.”

Hence, embracing productive conflict and evaluating the outcome. Asking provoking questions, pushing back, facilitating productive interaction or highlighting opposing views are all ways to introduce conflict. Meetings are where those disagreements should be hashed out. The end goal, though, is creating conflict that leads to productivity.

According to Fierce CEO Susan Scott, “challenging a colleague’s opinion and interrogating their reality can produce amazing results.”

Successful businesses learn how to use conflict in a way that improves business productivity. In a recent Tedx Talk, labor entrepreneur and co-founder of Coworker.org, Jess Kutch explained the benefits of productive conflict. She realized that when people decide to challenge their work lives for the better, it can be beneficial for everyone involved.

“People engage in productive conflict when they like the company they work for,” she said. She went on to say, “Businesses that welcome productive conflict see low turnover and high productivity.”

“I’ve often told my clients that if you have 10 people at a table and they agree on every single issue, you no doubt have the wrong 10 people,” said Roger Dean Duncan in an article for Forbes.

As a business owner or leader, dismissing pushback on ideas and strategies can damage company culture and performance. Encourage employees to give feedback and ensure the feedback will not be met with anything but constructive criticism. Those who are unafraid to tell you ‘no’ are the employees who shift your business into new dimensions. When there is psychological safety, diversity of thought unfolds, and employees engage more in the business.

Scene Three: Make Every Minute Count

Business leaders have driven their teams to contribute and engage in meetings. They’ve created a safe space to allow for productive conflict. So how do leaders move to the ultimate phase of productivity? There are a few organizational efficiencies that can be implemented to ensure that no time is wasted.

Prior to the Meeting

  1. Decide if the meeting needs to be a sit-down or quick huddle. Quick huddles should take no longer than 15 minutes and participants are typically asked to stay standing. This keeps the conversations quick. Consider limiting total meeting times to an hour or under to keep them engaged and attentive.
  2. Determine mandatory attendees beforehand.
  3. Determine starting time based on availability and the concept of the team’s “prime time.” Take note of when employees are most alert.
  4. Select a meeting facilitator to drive productive conversation. The facilitator is typically allowed to interject conversations when necessary to keep the team on track.
  5. The team leader or facilitator should send an agenda at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. If the leader or facilitator cannot determine the objectives for the time together, consider reevaluating whether the meeting should occur.

During the Meeting

  1. Clear tables of unnecessary devices. Consider the volume of distractions that occur during a meeting if everyone has laptops on the table. If attendees need to attend to an urgent matter, ask that they leave the room briefly to take phone calls or send emails.
  2. Provide the opportunity for attendees to add input. Everyone should have space to contribute and feel safe to comment without fear of interruption or retribution. If constant interruptions or negative comments are frequent, consider addressing this with individual team members in a private setting.
  3. Track meeting time and ensure the meeting does not extend beyond the schedule. Schedule follow-ups if more time is needed.

End of the Meeting

  1. Recap action items and determine next steps or if a follow-up meeting is needed.
  2. Have attendees rate the meeting based on their individual engagement, participation and informational value received. If attendees are not comfortable saying their score aloud (1-5 or 1-10), consider having attendees write their score down anonymously and hand to the facilitator. These are great indicators of the meeting value. If scores widely vary, work with your team to see what can be improved.
  3. Adjust the next meeting according to the feedback you receive from your team. Take this feedback seriously and follow through with promises to incorporate changes.

If the correct steps are taken, employee engagement can improve dramatically during meetings. Before long, employees might anticipate the next meeting as much as they would their favorite actor’s next movie.