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Meetings; a legal way to torture your staff.

1328. Sarah files into the board room; mug of coffee, notebook and head filled with dread.

Re-scheduled to 1330 by the boss from its original 1100 time slot due to “sorry but my 0930 with sales ran overtime”, this weekly 90 minute torture session meant Sarah’s lunch break was cut short by 15 minutes.

Ross enters the room at 1333 and 47 seconds. For the next 86 minutes, Ross talks. Self-indulgent rambles, insincere requests for feedback on his latest plan, and the dissemination of information more suitable to email.

Three hours earlier in a building just down the street:

The boss looks at her watch, patiently waits for the second hand to sweep past the 12, and begins. “Hi everyone, welcome to the weekly.”

This meeting was scheduled from 0930-1030 and the format and requirements were outlined on a short agenda sent 48 hours earlier. Ada concluded the meeting at precisely 1029. This included the standard 5 minute analysis of the meeting itself.

In this company, meeting protocols are clearly explained in core process documents; everyone knows that meetings begin and finish on time without exception, along with the requirement for every attendee to assess the meeting on its effectiveness during the last 5 minutes of allotted time.

The meeting was highly effective. Ada opened proceedings by admitting a costly error she had made 2 days earlier. She appeared slightly uncomfortable while explaining the error, but as usual, had analysed it thoroughly and went on to debrief the team on what she had learnt and her response to the lesson.

The meeting had a very structured format which was upheld with clinical precision by a designated time keeper. Being mostly a ‘thinking’ meeting, for significant periods the room was awash with multi-node conversation. During these periods, an outside observer would have been unable to tell who was 'the boss’.

Ada leads a high performance team. They are the gold standard within their industry and staff turnover is virtually non-existent.

Watching a meeting is one of the quickest ways to establish the health of an organisation. It is irrelevant whether it is hosted by a highly technical engineering firm or an intensively creative interior design studio; meeting culture and protocols tell so much:

  • Adherence to timelines

  • Respect for diverse opinion

  • Empathy

  • Leadership quality

  • Psychological safety

  • Strength of culture

The research is crystal clear; most employees, executives and juniors alike, rate meetings as an utter waste of their precious time.

What can you do to improve yours?

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