Last week I asked my readers to complete a brief survey to help me understand the kinds of meetings you participate in and how you feel about them. Many thanks to those of you who responded and shared your experiences.
While the number of participants is too small for me to claim any statistical validity, I nevertheless believe the trends and patterns are interesting, and I want to share a few of them here, along with some thoughts about what they mean.
For starters, it appears that this group is generally representative of middle to senior managers. The respondents were predominantly HR and Facilities functional leaders, based in the United States, and averaging a bit over 50 years old. The group is evenly split between men and women. The age and seniority data suggest that these are experienced people, presumably with significant leadership responsibilities.
That presumption is confirmed by the fact that the survey respondents reported that they personally lead well over 50% of the meetings they participate in.
Which makes it completely understandable that over half of the respondents believe the meetings they attend are Very Productive (5%) or Generally Productive (47%).
I was initially somewhat surprised by that essentially positive assessment of meeting experiences. However, another way to interpret that data is to note that only half of the leaders of meetings consider those meetings to be productive.
The survey also revealed that most organizational meetings are held in formal conference rooms; that they most frequently include four to seven people, and that well over half of all meetings last between 30 and 60 minutes. But 10% of meetings last more than two hours, and about 15% of them include eight or more participants.
In addition, almost 40% of the meetings are distributed ones, utilizing conference calling and/or screen-sharing technologies to connect people in difference physical locations.
It may be that none of this surprises you. But meetings are a source of great frustration and even anger for many of the people I interviewed during my research for my new book, Making Meetings Matter, which will be published in January.
In all honesty, I can’t think of a single instance of anyone I’ve spoken to reporting that they love attending meetings and can’t wait for the next one to begin. There is almost universal agreement that meetings waste time, are boring, and should not be so easy to convene.
That makes me wonder if one of the reasons that meetings are so widely scorned is that they may often include the wrong participants, or at least some participants who don’t need to be there. Because so many of the survey respondents in this case were meeting leaders, they naturally have a direct interest in the topics and purposes of the meetings they convene and attend. Their positive feelings about their own meetings should not be at all surprising.
One of the recent Steve Jobs biographies (I forget which one) includes a story about his dismissing a young woman from one of his meetings. Jobs always gave careful thought to meeting participation, both because he valued other people’s time and because he was crystal clear about the outcomes he was seeking in every meeting.
The story is quite simple: as people were gathering for a meeting Jobs had called, one young woman he didn’t know walked into the room. He asked who she was and why she was there. When she answered his questions, he responded along the lines of “Thank you. There is really no need for you to be here; please excuse yourself.” Jobs wasn’t being elitist or arrogant; he was simply being practical.
One way to increase the quality of your meetings is to be like Steve Jobs: make sure that all the participants have a valid need reason to be there – and that they know what that reason is and what outcomes the meeting will produce. If all the participants have a vested interest in both the content and the outcome of your meeting, they are far more likely to consider it a good use of their time – and to behave in ways that will make it a productive meeting.
Contact me today for a free 30-minute conversation about how you can make your own meetings fun, functional, and productive. And download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter.