From government agencies to educational institutions to business organizations, all of our various industries and the organizations that compose them have at least one thing in common: Meetings. Simon Schwartsman, a scholar of networks and geographies offered the following observation:
â€œHistorically, face-to-face meetings have played an important role in the social, and especially the political life, of Western and non-Western societies.â€
While Schwartsmanâ€™s claim is certainly well-founded, we continually hear that many of our meetings are â€œa waste of time.â€ In fact, the list of ailments associated with organizational meetings is quite long, and usually produces comments like the following:
- Our meetings are never on timeâ€”they start and end late
- Our meetings are â€œdull and boringâ€
- There are too many disruptions in our meetings
- Decisions never get made in our meetings
- Only certain people talk during our meetings
- We go off target in our meetings
- People lose interest during the course of our meetings
- From a simple cost perspective, business meetings are excessively costly given the benefits derived
In light of such opinion, more and more organizations are switching from face-to-face meetings to other forms of conferencing, such as teleconferencing, email and other informal communications. Yet, in doing so, we risk losing important team-building, productivity and inter-organization communication.
Why Meetings Matter
Meetings are the way that information and knowledge travel through an organization. With all of our ability to instantly communicate with one another, nothing supersedes the information transfer that takes place when gathering physically, in one anotherâ€™s human presence.
Meetings also provide the opportunity for an organization to discuss and determine how business, industry and technology trends are going to impact them. With multiple points of view and perspectives present, the best understanding of how an organization will weather changes like globalization or a labor shortage can emerge. Such problems are simply too complex and overwhelming for any individual to solve single-handedly, but when put to discussion in a meeting, an appropriate course of action can usually be conceptualized. Meetings are one of the main ways we collaborate.
Finally, meetings are critical in keeping various individuals in any organization connected. Through meetings, organizational culture is often established and reinforced. Group conferences foster a sense of team-work and camaraderie, often leading to higher employee retention and great productivity.
Meetings Come At A Cost
Of course, the meetings we holdâ€”and we hold a lot of meetingsâ€”come at an organizational cost. According to the National council of Statistics, 37% of employee time is spent in meetings. MIT Sloan Management, in a publication title â€œThe Science and Fiction of Meetingsâ€ reported that we attend 11 million meetings per day across the US â€“ and this does not include the informal meetings that happen in hallways, in break rooms or in individual offices.
MIT Sloan Management also reports that participating individuals think that between 25-50% of those meetings are wastes.
Even if they are, indeed, a waste, such waste costs a company in many ways.
In fact, researcher Jay F. Nunamaker and his colleagues, reported that in 1996 one Fortune 500 company estimated that ineffective meetings cost them $75 million dollars annually. Some innovative individuals are even capitalizing off of this sticky reality by creating free online tools like Meeting Miser, an algorithm designed to estimate how much any given meeting actually costs an employer based on attending employee salary.
Poor and ineffective meetings also cost organization morale, productivity and efficiency.
What Sort of Solution Is Needed?
What we are presented with, then, is a conundrum of sorts. We know that real organizational magic happens in face-to-face meetings. In fact, GLOBAL Meeting Professionals recently published a bulletin through MIX magazine outlining some of the psychological and economical reasons that organization meetings matter. After listing observed benefits such as â€œbreakthrough thinkingâ€ and â€œstronger networking tiesâ€ they summarize simply:
â€œEven as budgets are expected to fall this year, face-to-face meetings are still considered to have the highest ROI of all marketing and organizational tools.â€
In order to truly get the most out of our meeting mileage, what is needed is not a complete dismissal of face-to-face meetings or their importance, but rather a reevaluation of how and why we meet.
Creating More Value for Business Meetings
The overall value of any organizationâ€™s meetings is really a simple function of costs and outcomes. Anything that lowers the cost of a meeting while boosting the productivity of that meeting will increase the value of the meeting.
Experts offer the following suggestions on ways to make face-to-face meetings more efficient:
I. Prior to the meeting
- Decide whether a meeting is necessary.
- Decide who and how many attendeesâ€”too many people may be problematic under circumstances where decision-making is important.
- Define the purpose and/or objectives of the meeting.
- Prepare an agendaâ€”including topics for discussion, presenters for various topics, time allotment for each topic. Make sure there are not tooÂ many topics to cover within the designated time period.
- Choose an appropriate meeting time.
- Circulate information to those who will be in attendanceâ€”include objectives, agenda, time and place, background material if any.
- Indicate that participants must be on time and have read the materials prepared.
- Assign roles to participants (e.g. note-taker, facilitator, etc.)
- Decide on who sits where
- Make sure that coffee, tea, snacks are ordered
- Insure that the location will be in physically pleasing and hospitable location with good acoustics, air conditioning, convenient, etc.
- Make sure that adequate resources are available (e.g. laptops that work, flip charts, pens, etc.)
- Prepare readable name tags if necessary
II. Holding the meeting
- Welcome members to the meeting.
- Introduce members to each other, if they were not known previously
- Identify who is in charge of the meeting and any special roles taken by individuals
- State the purpose and/or objectives of the meeting
- Review the time frame allowed for the meeting
- Do an attendance check or head count.
- Determine the decision-making process if necessary.
- Make sure that discussions are not monopolized by only a few people.
- Summarize the major decisions made (if any) or action plans resulting from the meeting.
- Insure the level of confidentiality needed.
- Terminate the meeting if it is over.
III. After the meeting
- Prepare minutes and distribute as soon as possible after the meeting
- Follow-up on action items.
- Debrief in terms of what made the meeting effective or ineffective and ask for feedback from participants.
The Role Of Technology In How We Meet
In addition to taking measures to make our meeting practices more effective and more efficient, many companies have begun to consider replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual meetings in order to cut down on costs.
While technology has made great strides, and continues to expand in applicable effectiveness, numerous studies suggest that virtual meetings can still never really equal the many positive benefits of face-to-face meetings.Â Deirdre Johnston, the Professor and Chair of Hope Collegeâ€™s Communications Department speculates reasons for this:
â€œWith technology, there is always a barrier or filter that is not present in face to face. As the level of intimacy decreases, so does perceived accountability, responsibility and perhaps full honesty.â€
Even among those same individuals who reportedly despise many meetings as a â€œwaste of time,â€ IMEX Research shows that:
â€œonly approximately 1 in 3 respondents (35%) accept the argument that electronic participation via video-conferencing or web-cams can become a low-cost and time-efficient substitute for face-to-face meetings, and even those felt this could relate only to minor, smaller, or standard meetings.â€
In short, face-to-face meetings manage to create a level of synergy that virtual meetings still cannot replicate.
Yet, in these face-to-face meetings it is still necessary to incorporate new technologies that support the way we prefer to meet and conference. Unfortunately, many of our meetings have yet to embrace the shifting learning styles of todayâ€™s, more millennial workforce. Similair problems are faced in the educational sector, with regards to the ways our educational institutions must shift their teaching styles. Most of our meetings still operate within a â€œsage on the stageâ€ paradigm. That is, with one person broadcasting information to the meeting attendees. In such situations, many of these exact attendees may already be using their mobile devices or laptops, either covertly or overtly, and often for purposes unrelated to the meeting. This type of disengagement is what makes meetings unproductive.
Instead, by effectively incorporating more interactive technologies and practices into our meeting spaces, we will likely find our meetings to be more productive and efficient.
Such practices might include:
- Prepare and post online all materials to be referenced â€“ indicate advanced reading and research expectations
- Bring your technology (laptop, mobile device) and expect to use it â€“ set expectations on use
- Build in skill training and practice (not just technology) for the participants so that they walk away knowing something they didnâ€™t know before
- Poll people for opinions on important questions â€“ they respond with their technology to give immediate results
- Increase collaborative small group discussion time of important questions, idea storming, working on solutions to problems
- Build in sharing out time of work individuals or small groups have completed â€“ expect all work to be posted online for others to see and benefit
- Use new tools such as wikis for group responses, twitter for sharing the meeting activities and info with others, blogs for individual writing time, discussion boards for topical idea sharing
Of course, to incorporate more of this interactive technology into our conference habits, we have to have the space and equipment to support it.
Conference furniture that supports interactive and engaging meetings is exactly what VersaTables specializes in providing. Our high quality, American made conference tables offer collaborative and adaptable spaces that effectively and usefully incorporate needed technologies.
Downview Rectangular Conference Table
Consider, for instance, our Downview Rectangular Conference Table. Rather than relying on traditional meeting room tables, this product offers a complete solution for multi-purpose rooms. Its unique design is versatile and complimentary to any plaza or organizational scheme, allowing it operate as a flexible meetings space.
Additionally, the down view feature allows easy access to computer use, without blocking the visual flow of meeting attendees. As individuals can use technology to collaboratively discuss organizational needs, their productivity is greatly enhanced.
Revolution Rectangular Conference Table
Our Revolution Rectangular Conference Table also allows for easy use and flexible spacing. This conference table features rotating computer screens that can be used during a meeting, or flipped safely back down into the table when not in use.
A great body of research suggests that when meeting attendees can interact with representational artifacts (something that has been pulled up on a computer screen) they can achieve a greater sense of cohesiveness and understanding with regards to the tasks they need to complete. In their article â€œSharing Tools of the Trade,â€ authors Jon Hindmarch and Christen Heath describe this phenomenon:
â€œThese artifacts become critical sites of collaboration through a process so subtle and ingrained we donâ€™t even realize itâ€™s occurring.â€
In order to again become more effective, the spaces that we meet and conference in must shift and evolve. In this way, taking the initiative to plan for and provide effective meeting spaces supported by technology is just as important as creating the rest of any organizationâ€™s work environment.