A former teller, Amber Stewart, of Oklahoma City, used to dread meetings called by her original boss at the bank.
Invariably, her manager chose to meet before work, so the staff had to get up extra early. Worse, her boss would neglect and put off meetings, so when she did hold them, Stewart and her half-awake co-workers were on “information overload” of mostly outdated reports, she said.
“There was no dialogue. She'd read things off a computer word-for-word,” Stewart said, “and no high point, except for the part where we got to leave!”
Such unproductive meetings are all too common in the workplace, most agree. But when they're well-run, meetings can be more than good for business, experts say.
According to a recent study by Creighton University of more than 300 employees who regularly attend meetings, managers who make meetings relevant, encourage employees to speak about the topics being discussed and who are cognizant of the length of meetings and keep them relatively short create an engaged and motivated workforce.
“Meetings must have a purpose, and that purpose must be meaningful for those required to attend,” said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of psychology at Creighton and co-author of the study.
Employees for whom meetings are irrelevant should be able to opt out, Allen said.
“Any time someone goes to a meeting, you should consider the cost of the lost opportunity had they stayed and worked in their office,” he said.
Moreover, meeting participants should be able to say what they think and feel, Allen said, acknowledging managers must work on creating open environments outside, as well as inside, meetings.
Managers should hold meetings at appropriate times, not 4 p.m. Fridays, Allen said.
And meetings should be convened and adjourned on time, with breaks and refreshments provided for gatherings longer than an hour, he said.
Mike Richardson, author of “Wheel$pin: The Agile Executive's Manifesto: Accelerate Your Growth, Leverage Your Value, Beat Your Competition” and adjunct faculty member at the University of San Diego Business School, recommends limiting meetings to 45 minutes and, to encourage precision, starting them promptly at five minutes after the hour and ending at 10 minutes to.
“That way participants will know to be there on time, ready to rock and roll,” Richardson said.
Above all, meetings must be well-chaired, he said, with managers knowing when to go slow and fast or facilitate fast consensus.
Monica Wittrock, vice president of First American Title Insurance Co., is running a series of strategic planning meetings for her 200 employees, in groups of 30, at the Science Museum Oklahoma.
“Putting employees in an outside setting allows them, for a short period of time, to be who they'd like to be,” Wittrock said.
“I was absolutely amazed by the ideas — from entry-level employees to experienced managers — for ensuring our customers' needs are met, from things to do while waiting for their closing appointments to how to deliver their documents to them at the end of the process.”
Patti Neuhold, executive director of professional education at the University of Central Oklahoma, believes meetings aren't always the most efficient way to communicate messages.
“The important thing is to get the information to your target audience in their preferred style,” Neuhold said.
Alternative styles, she said, include server-based documents such as “Wikis” or the Microsoft Web application platform “SharePoint.”
Tips for effective meetings
• Invite the right people. Excuse employees who have no stake in the business being discussed.
• Create agendas. They help meetings run more efficiently.
• Frame meetings with a question. Questions spark quick thinking and creativity.
• Limit meetings to 45 minutes. Allot specific time for each agenda item.
• Generate input. Allow and encourage the sharing of ideas.
• Get fast consensus. After all options are on the table, state your preferred solution, ask if all parties can accept it and, if so, discuss how to execute it.
• Keep action items on a server-based spreadsheet. It provides easy access for all.