There are few companies that manage to strike a good balance of open communication, timely decision making, and high efficiency. Having worked with dozens of asset managers over my career, I have good perspective on how companies nail it and where others meet roadblocks to success. I’ve found that one of the key indicators of project success and efficiency is meeting culture. Effective meetings pave the way to realizing big goals but ineffective meetings can be a huge drain on resources, especially in this time of remote work where meeting cadence seems to have increased.
As we all navigate new communication norms, I think we can find an optimal balance by evaluating our current state and course-correcting before ineffective meeting norms become embedded in our teams. To do so, consider the last dozen or more meetings you’ve attended and ask yourself the following questions. If you can answer yes to some or all of them, there’s a good chance your team needs a refresher on how and when to utilize meetings.
Did your meeting have too many invitees? Let’s be honest, if a meeting includes more people than can reasonably speak in the time frame allotted, this isn’t a meeting—it’s a town hall. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a town hall. They can be a very effective means of distributing information to a wide audience. But if your meeting is meant for more than just information sharing but often consists of a small percentage of attendees talking and little to no decisions being made, something needs to change. Reexamine the goal of the meeting and evaluate your attendee list to make sure everyone invited is actually needed.
Was there a clear objective? Many firms adopt the policy that all meetings must have an agenda. That’s fine, encouraged even! But let’s not kid ourselves. Not all agendas are created equal. Too many meeting agendas contain ambiguous bullets filled with topics for open discussion. Unless you’re in a creative brainstorming session, the discussion should be as focused as possible. Open dialogue leaves opportunity for the group to veer into conversations that were never intended to take place. An efficient meeting would be to discuss a specific set of problems with the people who can solve them. If your agenda contains items such as “Opening Remarks” followed by the “Status” of x, y or z, this meeting is bleeding into the information sharing purpose again—is that it’s purpose?
Did the meetings consistently run long? If you’re constantly running out of time, this may be a sign that the meeting purpose or agenda is too vague. As you can imagine, it’s highly inefficient to get partially through an issue just to have to reschedule and start the discussion all over again. Was the overrun caused by too many agenda items? Or did the group take a few fieldtrips along the way? If the latter, this is another sign the meeting purpose needs to be tightened up or you need stronger leadership to help keep people on track.
Did people often skip the meetings? There’s no clearer sign that a meeting has become ineffective than when attendance begins to wane. The problem is likely rooted in one of the above-mentioned issues…if not, it may be time to challenge the team’s commitment. There may be underlying capacity or prioritization issues that you’re missing by not confronting this. Recurring meetings can be especially challenging to ensure consistent, active participation. The very idea assumes you know ahead of time that you will have problems to solve or decisions to make and have the right audience every time. If you’re going to use recurring meetings, your meeting leader should still prepare relevant agenda topics to ensure the time is productive.
As you reflect on your recent meetings, which of these behaviors have you witnessed? Now ask yourself what influence you have to effect change in making meetings more effective and actually worth your while. Imagine how much more efficient you can become, let alone your entire organization.