While traipsing through the halls of a local high tech startup, I chanced across this laminated set of rules in the cafeteria. Why the cafeteria? Because that's a high traffic area and it's important that everyone get the message: meetings cost time and money, so think about what you're doing! The first rule of Meet Club is to ask this question: Do we really need to meet?
Running a good meeting is not simply about controlling the tempo and topic of the meeting, but also about managing the different personalities in attendance. In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, there was an article covering this topic entitled Meet the Meeting Killers, in which they describe four types of co-workers who frequently disrupt meetings: the Jokester, the Dominator, the Naysayer and the Rambler. For each, the post offers a behavioral description and suggestions on how to neutralize or convert them into supporters.
However I think they missed a couple others which I've often encountered: the Lurker, who's relatively harmless, and the Passive-Aggressive Attacker, who's dangerous and incredibly annoying. So how do you deal with these and why bother?
More importantly, how does your boss know? And what about your clients/members/stakeholders - how do they know?
Research shows that meeting consumes more time than any other business practice: people meet all the time. And what are they getting for this investment? Research also shows that by and large, people find many meetings a waste of time - so obviously they're not getting much out of these meetings that they recognize as valuable.
This ridiculous state of affairs shows no signs of shifting, despite very clear, readily available, and consistent information about how to make meetings work. We KNOW that meetings are important to getting work done and moving projects forward, because there isn't any way to more effectively get the buy in from a group of people. We KNOW that meetings are more enjoyable, more productive, and get higher ratings from everyone involved when they have an agenda, stay focused, and have documented results.
We KNOW all of this, but we rarely put these techniques into practice. Most business meetings today have no clear work product. Some people spend up to 80% of their work time in meetings, the majority of which they end up with nothing to show for it: absolutely nothing they can point to, revisit, or pass on to a colleague. Forgettable, at best.
Admittedly, some people don't have any experience or training in basic meeting skills. For everyone else, though, what's the problem? Why is this not only accepted, but the norm?
Here at Lucid Meetings, we talk a lot about how to do online, virtual meetings well. If you've read any of our blog posts, you know our perspective: prepare an agenda in advance, send the agenda and meeting materials to attendees so they know what they're getting into, think about who you're inviting and know who's actually coming, record the important stuff from the meeting, send a followup, and so on. We believe that well run meetings will be shorter, more effective, and even - dare I say it - enjoyable.
But "Easy" Triumphs
I know what you're thinking - yeah, he's right, but I don't always want to do that much work. Can't meetings just be easy? I'm glad you asked! Because this is exactly why we started Lucid Meetings - to make great meetings the most natural, easy thing for you, our customers, to do. Let's talk about how easy it is to have a great Lucid Meeting.
There's no one here except us people
Fundamentally, we meet to satisfy our needs for rich information gathering, human connection and to feel a part of a group.
Kevin Hoffman says that meetings "...are the only place we can apply the full range of human communication styles: verbal (spoken word), visual (written words and image), and physical (body language) to a problem as a group. If we don’t iterate that shared understanding, flawed though it may be, we guarantee misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and feelings of isolation."
It's this need for a shared understanding that drives our impulse to meet. You know intuitively whether your meetings create that sense of communal knowledge and purpose for you, or whether they instead frustrate, bore, and confuse.
You can evaluate a meeting's gut-level value many ways. A simple up/down or like/dislike can suffice. That said, we find it useful and eminently more interesting to take the gut check further, looking at three different aspects of a meeting's worth using the questions and scales below.
Beauty and Value: both all up in your eyes
A quick preface: value, like beauty, is subjective and personal. Measuring meeting value, then, becomes an exercise of finding a methodology for turning these individual perceptions of value into a consistent and repeatable format.
We propose the following approach:
10 people with an average burdened rate of $100/hr attend a 1-hour meeting. The organization pays $1000 for those people to attend the meeting.
Why Most Companies Don't Measure This Cost
This calculation quickly and easily shows the enormous sums an organization spends paying people to sit in meetings over the course of a typical month, but most organizations don't bother running this calculation. Instead, they'll spend hours (often expensive hours in meetings) strategizing on how to get the best deal on screen sharing.
Chalk that up to the power of the sunk cost fallacy. Ever heard the term "sunk cost"? Economists consider payments, investments or costs which can never be recovered sunk costs. When looking for ways to manage costs, managers and executives are trained to ignore money already spent in the past, which is gone and can never be recovered, and focus instead on how money can be spent going forward.
Part I: Software Costs
As you may have seen, we recently announced new pricing for Lucid Meetings. You may have wondered how we arrived at the prices we did. Then again, maybe you didn't. Either way, prepare to be informed.
We wanted to make sure we could save teams money on their software costs, and to do that, we needed to do some research. What do teams pay for their meeting software today? Our investigation revealed three main ways that people use and purchase software for collaborative meetings.
The Free Lunch
You can absolutely cobble together a meeting solution out of free bits of software. Most businesses and professional organizations do not, however, and those that do are beginning to shift back to paid services.
Many years ago, I met with Michael Harrington, a public speaking coach and trainer. He described his training approach as that of "taking a competitive sports view" to public speaking. His view was that you could train people with some very specific skills and thereby teach them to win the day, so to speak. For some reason, that competitive view of public speaking really worked well for me. The task of public speaking became something I really wanted to master, rather than something to be dreaded and endured.
I have a similar idea about meetings. When I was a young buck at Intel, we were trained in effective meeting practices because Intel recognized that 1) meetings weren't a diversion, but rather where management did real work, and 2) it was too critical to the company's success to waste people's time and energy on something that lacked structure and results-orientation. I don't know how many times I heard "don't tell me you went to this or that meeting, tell me the result!"
There are lots of articles out there on how to put together an agenda, many of which focus on proper agenda etiquette, including formatting, logistics, and the judicious use of inspirational quotes. If you're running formal board meetings or regular committee meetings, then it makes sense to spend some time learning about the Standard Order of Business from Robert's Rules and developing a good set of templates.
If, on the other hand, you're part of a team working to ship some sort of awesome in short order, you can look to the great undercover teams from pop-culture for a few simpler rules. Bonus: if you're a bit rusty on the references here, Mission Impossible is available on Netfilx streaming and The A-Team is on Hulu!
On our home page, we talk about combining collaboration and meeting software to help teams work together well. More specifically, this means that we develop software designed to improve collaborative meetings, and the people we reach out to are those who often hold collaborative meetings.
When we talk about collaborative meetings, it sometimes sounds like we're just flipping our verbs and adjectives about. So let's take a moment and get clear on what we mean when we say collaborative meetings, and why the definition matters.
First, the basics:
- People working together towards a common goal.
- Real-time discussion between people
Therefore, a collaborative meeting is a real-time discussion between people working together towards a common goal.
While building Lucid Meetings, we interviewed a lot of people about how meetings work in their companies, the problems they have and how they solve them. We heard from several people who experienced issues with poor preparation, an inability to reach decisions, and teams that didn't follow through with the plans made during the meeting. For those companies that have these issues, they are pervasive and debilitating.
None of this was a surprise - after all, that's why we're working on this project. What did surprise us was the sense of defeat we heard from many of the people who felt their meetings were broken. Most of these people were middle managers or project managers, people who spend their days in meetings but have no real authority over the tools they use or the company's expectations around teamwork. When we'd talk with them about how we could help them begin to change their meetings, they'd reply along the lines of "Oh, that would be really wonderful, but you have to understand - it's really a total culture issue."
That's right: these people saw unproductive meetings that wasted their time and didn't help them get work done as part of their corporate culture, and therefore beyond their ability to change.
Over the past 15 years, we've spent a lot of time helping teams get work done using collaboration software. We've worked as developers, consultants, marketers, project managers, and volunteers, with companies and organizations across sectors ranging from local PTAs to international aerospace associations.
We've learned a lot. We've learned that people are people - from DC to Dingle there are quirky folks and angry folks and rock stars in every group. And when it's time for these people to work together using software, we've come to some clear (perhaps even obvious) conclusions.