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Dani Bacon

Distinction Business Consulting

Organisation Development Consultant

Read more from Dani Bacon

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Mastering meetings: The key to effective leadership

Meetings. Whether you love them, loathe them or sit somewhere in the middle, there’s no denying they are crucial for both teams and organisations. But ineffective meetings cost time and money. Here, Dani Bacon and Garin Rouch of Distinction Business Consulting explore strategies for better executed and more meaningful meetings.
padlock on black metal fence representing unlocking effective leadership

Meetings are integral to the fabric of teams and organisations. When conducted effectively, they serve as vital conduits for coordination, cohesion, teamwork, communication and inclusion. 

They harness collective intelligence and spark new insights and ideas that might not emerge from solitary working. Despite their potential, the prevailing sentiment towards meetings is often less than favourable.

Time is money

A startling revelation comes from a survey where only 17% of leaders felt the 23 hours they dedicated to meetings each week were beneficial. 

This feeling is echoed in broader teams, where Atlassian research found that half of the meetings attended were considered wasteful, translating to an average of 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings. 

Post-pandemic, the shift to hybrid and remote work models has led to a 13% increase in meetings, as we substitute the spontaneous, ad-hoc conversations that naturally occur in co-located settings with scheduled meetings.

Research found that half of the meetings attended were considered wasteful

The true cost of meetings

The direct costs of these unproductive meetings are substantial (anywhere from $37 billion to $250 billion per year depending on the research you read), but the indirect impacts, particularly on employee morale and productivity, are even more concerning. 

Steven Rogelberg's research in 'The Surprising Science of Meetings' found a correlation between employees' perceptions of meeting effectiveness and their general job satisfaction or dissatisfaction.  

This was the case even after controlling for personality traits and other work-related factors like work design, supervision, and pay.

Make meetings meaningful

Effective meetings can foster a positive culture where attendees are more likely to be engaged, contribute actively and display positive behaviours. 

When participants view a meeting as relevant and effective, it boosts psychological meaningfulness, work engagement and task performance. 

Additionally, meetings where people feel they can voice their thoughts and ideas contribute to psychological safety, enhanced work engagement and positive leader-employee dynamics.

Effective meetings can foster a positive culture

Lack of investment

Despite the critical role meetings play and the costs involved in hosting and attending them, the training provided to leaders and managers on conducting effective meetings is often minimal. 

As Steven Rogelberg points out: "There is no other single investment of this magnitude that an organization makes that is treated in such a cavalier manner”. 

Learning to run effective meetings is often left to chance, with managers possibly picking up good practices from role models or, conversely, adopting ineffective habits without structured guidance or feedback.  

The skill of conducting effective meetings seldom features in performance evaluations or assessments, which is remarkable given the significant amount of time leaders and teams allocate to meetings.

Learning to run effective meetings is often left to chance

Quality over quantity

Meetings often devolve into a series of monologues, where status updates dominate, engagement is partial, focus is lost and outcomes are unclear. This diminishes the opportunity for strategic thinking and undermines team cohesion.

Addressing this issue can start with eliminating unnecessary meetings, using approaches like zero-based scheduling, where recurring meetings are periodically reassessed for their necessity and value. 

But since meetings are fundamental for most organisations, the focus also needs to be on improving their quality.

Research by the CIPD emphasises the need to enhance the capabilities of those leading meetings. The research found that the behaviour of the meeting leader is pivotal to a meeting's success. The leader needs to feel confident and demonstrate proficiency in organising and conducting these gatherings.

The behaviour of the meeting leader is pivotal to a meeting's success

Meeting coaching

So how can we support our leaders to feel more confident to execute better meetings? 

Rather than default to a training intervention, a promising strategy is meeting coaching, an approach that involves direct engagement with leaders and their teams in actual business meetings. 

This could encompass:

1. Observation of existing meetings 

This will enable current practices and dynamics to be gauged and can be coupled with discussions with the leader and team members to identify issues and opportunities for improvement.

2. Collaboration with the leader in agenda setting

To ensure the meeting's objectives are clear, relevant and structured to maximise productive use of time. Goal clarity has the second biggest impact on meeting effectiveness after leader behaviour.

3. Scrutiny of the attendee list 

To ensure all proposed attendees are essential. The review should also consider if there are people from other teams or even external stakeholders who need to be invited. This is a great opportunity to challenge siloed thinking and broker relationships across teams.

4. Preparation of attendees to contribute effectively

This involves providing them with the agenda and necessary background materials in advance, along with clear expectations for their contributions to each agenda item. 

Preparation may also extend to coaching attendees to foster readiness and confidence to engage actively. 

For individuals accustomed to a passive meeting role, targeted support may be necessary to help them transition to a more proactive and participatory mindset.

5. Attention to logistics

To ensure the physical or virtual meeting environment is conducive to productive discussions. This takes on an even greater significance if the meeting is taking place in a hybrid setting.

6. Development of the leader's skills in facilitating meetings

Encouraging active and inclusive participation, managing discussions and ensuring the meeting's objectives are achieved. Facilitation skills are an often-overlooked part of a manager’s toolkit but vital to their effectiveness.

7. Establishment of clear ground rules and decision-making processes

Agreed upon by the team, to guide meeting conduct and interactions.

8. On-the-spot support during meetings

To help the leader and team apply new strategies and techniques in real-time.

9. Effective conclusions

Ensuring meetings conclude with clearly defined actions, responsibilities, and follow-up plans.

10. Encouraging a culture of continuous improvement

In which each meeting's outcomes are reviewed, and lessons learned are applied to future gatherings.

As the team gains confidence and becomes proficient in new disciplines and techniques, they can independently replicate these practices. 

Periodic check-ins can then be implemented to monitor progress and ensure the continued effectiveness of these strategies.

A valuable opportunity

By adopting a more structured and intentional approach to meetings, organisations can unlock their full potential, transforming them from oft-dreaded obligations to pivotal opportunities for collaboration, decision making and innovation.

To get started try these four steps:

  1. Assess and evaluate your current meeting practices to identify areas where support could be most beneficial
  2. Quantify the direct and indirect cost of ineffective and unproductive meetings to build a case for investment
  3. Identify where you can source support – either internal or external – to help you develop your manager’s ability to lead effective meetings
  4. Pilot some meeting coaching and iterate before rolling out further 

Did you enjoy this article? Why not read: Leadership development: What you’re doing wrong and how to fix it

Author Profile Picture
Dani Bacon

Organisation Development Consultant

Read more from Dani Bacon

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