At the heart of all the consternation around remote work is fear of waste. We’re worried about wasted office space because we can see it. We’re worried about remote workers wasting company time because we can’t see them. But what about all of the waste that leaders are not only seeing, but actively contributing to, over and over and over again?
According to research by Business Insider, $37 billion is wasted annually in the U.S. due to ineffective meetings. Yet many organizations have accepted a very low standard for how time—and therefore money—are invested. While leaders know that in today’s knowledge-work economy the productivity of teams is paramount, they don’t seem to be tackling the primary impediment to it—meetings.
Imagine, however, if meetings could live up to their potential as a place for problem-solving, decision-making, generating insight, and strengthening relationships. Meetings could be the solution rather than the meme-worthy problem.
What does it really take to crack the code on effective meetings?
Leaders need to reset the standard for how organizational time is used. If there’s no clear purpose for a meeting included in the invitation, decline it. If the meeting starts going off track, name it and make positive suggestions for how to achieve the meeting objective. And when someone leads an effective meeting, provide them with public, specific recognition such as, “I really appreciate the thought you put into the design of this meeting. I think this was a great use of everyone’s time.”
While most of us have a vague sense of how to design and lead an effective meeting, we don’t have a lot of reference points for what good looks like. Invest in training that goes beyond surface level—yes, yes, we all need an agenda—and gets to the more nuanced points around how to ensure clarity of decisions, draw out quiet voices, and manage domineering participants.
One of the primary ways that leaders contribute to a culture of waste is by letting their own bad behavior slide. They come to meetings late and unprepared. They multitask rather than giving the conversation their full attention. They give themselves permission to dominate the conversation and shut down other contributors. But when it comes to establishing new team norms and expectations, actions speak louder than words.
If leaders model more engaged meeting behavior, the team will follow their lead. But you can’t expect that the meeting culture of your organization will change overnight. Adopting new, better habits takes time—just ask everyone who makes a New Year’s resolution to “eat healthier.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. The ROI on using time more effectively cannot be overstated. Think about what it would mean if your knowledge workers produced 20% more high-quality output while working the same amount of time or even less. That’s what an energized workforce is capable of.
If you want to unleash the full capacity of your team, look no further than your meetings. They’re a great place to start.