When we talk about optimizing organizational processes, we rarely talk about meetings. Which is a bit strange, since we spend around a quarter of our work time in meetings, on average. Tools and concepts such as lean, agile, scrum and timeboxing are being used more and more frequently to increase productivity on the work floor, yet meetings are still held after a 20th-century model. Why is that?
It’s in our blood
One of the reasons is the Dutch meeting culture. On average we spend around a quarter of our work time in meetings. Because meetings are so deeply woven into our DNA, they have acquired a place of their own within the daily business operations. As such, many organizations seem to have simply forgotten that a meeting is also an operational process. Perhaps the most important process of all, because the meeting process determines the heartbeat of an organization. It’s where you lay the foundation for collaboration. It’s where decisions are made that determine the pace in which an organization develops.
Different blood types
Subsequently, the different blood types in a meeting all have their own motivations for keeping things the way they are. To put it extremely, introverted people, who tend to focus more on content, will usually not be very vocal and will be hesitant to offer proposals for improvements. Moreover, it’s more about substance for them, making the process of less importance in their eyes. Managers, on the other hand, who can spend up to three quarters of their time in meetings, often are career-minded and pay more attention to the process. In general, they will not be eager to streamline meetings, because that would suddenly put their own roles in the spotlight. It’s a lot more comfortable to think about what others can do to improve. To an extent this is understandable, but no-one is any better for it.
Even if the realization that there is little to gain and the joint will to change the meeting culture are there, that often still isn’t enough to really get things moving. This has various causes. For one, meetings are often seen as a necessary evil. “There’s no way around it” and “It’s just how things are” are frequently heard remarks. People also don’t want to get their fingers burned: “There are too many forces at play to be able to change something just by myself.” In turn, meetings turn into somewhat of a blind spot; an intangible concept. It’s a lot easier to optimize a physical process than a process that centers interpersonal communication. From that point of view as well, it’s tempting to think that other operational processes are more important.
Okay, but now what?
If we spend a quarter of our time in meetings on average, can we afford to ignore the meeting process when optimizing other operational processes? At the very least, this is a missed opportunity to lower the workload, to create more focus and fun, and improve company results.
Psychology teaches us that recognizing and acknowledging are important conditions for change. Therefore try to put the meetings you’re attending in the abovementioned context. What’s actually going on? What does the process look like (before, during and after)? Is the goal clear to everyone? But most importantly: could it be more efficient? We will provide you with insights, advice and practical tips in the coming period to help you optimize meetings, just like other operational processes.