Unproductive meetings are costing us time and money: 1.3bn hours a year in the US; £26bn to the UK economy (CEBR 2011), or two to four hours per person, per week.
What a waste.
We must be more ambitious and make meetings more exciting and useful: knowledge-sharing, idea-generating, problem-solving, decision-making powerhouses.
This would require discipline and craft. A great meeting is carefully produced. The quality of the output is dictated by the clarity of purpose, the right preparation and considered casting.
At Grey London, we’ve been working on our culture with Sir Clive Woodward. He has a collaborative leadership model that he applied to England’s World Cup-winning rugby team of 2003 and Team GB at London 2012. He believes in every team (whether a sporting side or division of a Fortune 500 company) working on shared values and designing new behaviours. Among our collective ideas are four thoughts on how any organisation can hold great meetings.
Produce every meeting
Bring the same level of craft and creativity to meetings as you would to a piece of content (whether that’s an ad campaign, a marketing plan or a presentation to shareholders). One person has to be in charge: preparing the meeting and ensuring others are equally prepared; outlining the purpose (is the meeting about sharing knowledge, generating ideas or making decisions? Every meeting needs clear objectives, not just an agenda); thinking about how to inspire conversation and creativity; and encouraging different points of view. Also, keeping it on track and on time – all too often meetings drag on to fit the randomly allocated time of half-hour increments.
Fewer, bigger, better
Have fewer meetings, but make them count. Make sure that the right people are in the room – avoid baggy meetings with too many spectators rather than participants. Find a different way to do dull status updates, and use meetings to answer the big questions, not just follow an agenda. At Grey, we have just introduced three non-negotiable meetings for every project:
1. The Ambition Meeting: we set out our ambitions for the project up front. What do we want to achieve?
2. The Open Review: a constructive meeting, mid-project, where we discuss the status of the project so far.
3. The Works Meeting: a review meeting where we explore how the project worked and how we can make it better next time.
Focusing on these meetings is already making a difference, but what will kick it up a gear is our plan to build different environments for each, to remind and inspire everyone about why they’re there.
Because many meetings are poorly structured, they’re full of people paying only partial attention. This behaviour reduces our IQs (according to research, it has the same effect as smoking a spliff). So, we’re trying out ways to get people to focus – asking them to switch their devices to plane mode and put them in a bowl, for example.
Finally, we are firm believers in an open culture. So while wrestling with our clients’ desires for privacy (and Steve Jobs’ "no passengers" meeting rule), we’re experimenting with inviting outsiders – directors, punters, people from different teams or clients from other sectors – into key meetings. They must participate, providing fresh input and perspective.
Every company has its own culture and way of doing meetings, but, given how much of our lives they take up, shouldn’t we demand better?