I ran across an article from Forbes recently that confirmed what I’ve been thinking for a long time now…

Meetings no longer work (if they ever did) in the intended way!

Image from DollarPhotoClub.com

Image from DollarPhotoClub.com

Citing research from Harvard Business School and London School of Economics, the article revealed that executives spend upwards of 18 hours per week in meetings. That is a third or more of their typical work week.

As many as half of those meetings were considered “a waste of time” by the executives who attended them.

While it may be overly simplistic to assign blame for this problem to a single causal factor, there is one that comes to mind: meetings have become more about information sharing than decision-making.

We’ve all been there:

The proverbial death by ‘fill-in-the-blank’ presentation software narrations accompanied by voluminous ‘decks’ of slides containing too many words, too much information, and too little insight.

In some sense it is a reality of the world we live in…a world where we are overloaded with data and starved for information and meaning.

But that is it not acceptable if the goal is to make meetings work.

Think about it. Does it really make sense to have people come together to hear information for the first time and then be asked to make important decisions about that information?

I don’t think so.

People need time to process what they’ve heard on both the conscious and subconscious levels before being asked to make decisions. They need time to process what they’ve heard, to gather insight from other sources so they can evaluate the alternatives, and to think through the implications of alternative courses of action.

The solution?

Shift the meeting process to put more emphasis on the preparation before the meeting:

1. Send out an agenda a few days before the meeting–the agenda should define the purpose for the meeting, the flow of the meeting, and the desired outcomes. Include time blocks for discussion segments and make a commitment to follow the agenda and keep the meeting on track.

2. Share information with attendees prior to the meeting–information (and any necessary data that supports it) should be distributed with the agenda so that participants can review it beforehand. Include potential options and/or clear guidance regarding the decisions that will be considered in the meeting to support deliberation and informal discussion prior to the meeting.

3. Distribute a summary of the meeting and key decisions–capturing key discussions and decisions from the meeting and sharing them promptly after the meeting is a key step in making this process shift work. Quickly communicating the decisions and sharing relevant supporting information reinforces the value of the process.

4. Debrief the process and revise as needed–use the simple 3-step debrief process (outlined in this post) to assess what worked, what didn’t and what’s next as a way to implement this approach across all of your meetings. It will take time to develop the capacity of the team to make meetings work, but the effort will pay off as the process evolves.

Your First Step: Commit to make meetings work by trying this approach for your next meeting where the participants will be asked to make decisions. Inform the participants about the way you are shifting the process and ask them all to take the initiative seriously by committing to prepare before the meeting so that the time together can be more productive (and focused on what matters–making the best decisions for your credit union).