More and more often, there are reports that meetings are no longer of importance and should belong to the past. It would be futile and a waste of time invested. In this article, we will take you through whether meetings are still relevant and / or whether meetings are useful for every company, what the function of meetings is, what causes the statements above, what the business effects of these arguments are and what can be done about it.
Why are (business) meetings out of date?
“A meeting is an organized gathering of individuals at which various points (of an agenda) are discussed and possibly decisions are taken” (Van Dale, 14th edition 2005).
Yet many people do experience meetings as useless and a waste of time. For example, they indicate the following:
- Always the same people who do the talking,
- The larger the group, the less effort / preparation is made by an individual to contribute,
- Others are not open to what someone else has to say,
- The brainstorm session does not lead to new / creative ideas,
- Decisions are not taken in a meeting, because they have already been taken beforehand.
- Meetings create additional conflict at the workplace, causing people to avoid the meeting and / or confrontation. Thus they do not stand up for their opinion.
So, is there a difference in this perspective related to different type of companies?
The organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) divides possible corporate cultures on the basis of two dimensions, namely:
- Orientation: Internal orientation and integration versus External orientation and differentiation
- Flexibility: Stability and control versus Flexibility and freedom to act
This leads to four possible corporate culture categories / quadrants.
- Adhocracy: is a dynamic, entrepreneurial and creative working environment. Innovation is important.
- Clan: is a friendly working environment where people have a lot in common and lots of cooperation.
- Hierarchy: is a highly formalized and structured work environment, focused on efficiency. It is about manageability and responsibility.
- Market: is a result-oriented, competitive organization in which completion of the work counts. They compete internally with each other.
The OCAI indicates that there are in general four different types of corporate cultures, where different types of leader types, management theories, and strategies are needed per culture. The OCAI is, just like the Myers & Briggs personality indicator, a simplified indication method, which only reveals a limited part of the individual’s character or -in this case- a business character.
What the OCAI does make clear, is that in all quadrants it is necessary to work together. However how strong and dynamic the cooperation is, differs per culture category.
What function do meetings fulfil?
Cooperation requires communication, so good communication is a prerequisite for good cooperation. Watzlawick (Watzlawichk, Helmick Beavin, & Jackson, 1967) divides communication into the content level and the relationship level. Also known as task-oriented vs people-oriented. The content level corresponds to the literal meaning of the text of the message. The relationship level has to do with the relationship between the conversation partners seen from the sender’s point of view.
The function of meetings is to carry out tasks together through communication in which the relationship is kept as optimal as possible.
Achieving the company’s targets is important and this requires cooperation, so communication and meetings are essential to the firm. Regardless of whether the company is a sole proprietorship without employees or a large multinational. A sole proprietorship without employees still works together with customers, suppliers, and / or competitors.
What causes meetings to be perceived as annoying?
There are several explanations for the dissatisfaction of meetings and conference cultures. In essence, these meeting inefficiencies and frustrations can be related to:
- The followed meeting procedures,
- The mismatch between expectations and achieved results,
- Communication -between the participants- and the atmosphere are not optimal during the meeting.
AD 1. Procedures
The feeling of spending / loosing too much time in meetings is strongly related to the inadequate working methods of many meeting groups. Often little time is invested in making agreements about the procedures and they tend to dive straight into the content.
After all, the meeting is about its content, right? Certainly, it is about the content, but preparation is half the battle. Often explicit agreements about how to approach a meeting goal are not made, as a result of which many meetings are less efficient than possible. This means, for example, that during an in-depth discussion, a concession must also be found about the manner of decision-making. That is distracting!
Clear procedure agreements prevent:
- Bickering about the way a decision is made,
- Digressions on topics that have no relevance to the relevant agenda item,
- Unnecessary delay in decision-making,
- Meeting overtime.
AD2. Meeting goals and expectations
Realize that a meeting can also yield a good result, without even one decision being made. So there are more goals than just decision making. However, differences in expectations and reality can lead to clashes and frustration among meeting participants.
Possible meeting goals are:
- Informing participants,
- Mapping a problem,
- Generating ideas,
- Gauging opinions,
- Creating support,
- Reaching a verdict,
- Making decisions,
- Making (work) agreements.
If you want the participants to participate in a meeting with the right expectations, then expectation management is vital. Making explicit what the goal is per meeting and / or per agenda item, is of the utmost importance for the chairman.
AD3. Interaction and atmosphere
In addition to the result itself, the sensation of result certainly counts for participants. This is the feeling of achieving a goal together.
That is why in a meeting the focus is, in addition to task-oriented, also people-oriented: the way in which we experience meetings as a participant. It is problematic if the progress of the gathering is hindered by the atmosphere or the way of communication.
It is certainly not acceptable if the interaction and / or atmosphere of a meeting would lead to (extra) conflicts in the workplace.
How to deal with meeting inefficiencies and frustrations?
- It is desirable that the roles of chairman (guarding progress and procedure), secretary and participant are clear and that the associated tasks are carried out.
- It is wise to make agreements about the procedures to be followed to improve the way of working at meetings.
- In order to ensure that the meeting participants start the meeting with the right expectations, it is important to always explicitly state the purpose of the meeting and / or the individual agenda items in advance.
- All meeting participants share the task to ensure that the atmosphere remains pleasant and enjoyable.
What added value does an external ‘meeting’ chairman bring to the table?
A chairman has an exemplary position in a meeting and directs the participants regarding the manner of conferencing. As already mentioned, many meetings can perform better.
In companies, someone internally is often assigned the role of chairman, but can you blame them for the fact that meeting frustrations arise or that the meeting is inefficient? Chairmanship is an area of expertise and the people who are assigned this role in addition to their day-to-day work often do not have (sufficient) knowledge or skills. In addition, people within the company are often unaware of the causes of these meeting inefficiencies, frustrations and what can be done about it. An external chairman can provide a quick solution here. In the meantime, someone from within the company may be able to acquire the knowledge and skills to eventually take over the work of the external chairman again.
Do you no longer need an external chairman, when there are people internally who have sufficient knowledge and skills to make meetings run effectively and avoid meeting frustrations?
Many times this would be the case, however, there are situations where an internal chairman is not recommended, where a neutral external party can provide a solution. But, does this give the external party too much power over the (your) company or the decision to be made?
Why does the sub question above mention ‘meeting’ chairman, with meeting in-between quotation marks?
Chairmanship is often associated with decision makers / people in power, but this is a misconception. Many times, someone in a position of power is given an additional role as chair (regardless of the ability of this person).
To make it even more unclear, more often vacancies or job titles are created that are actual the leader of the board, but these are given the title of chairman.
In short: A chairman steers the meeting and communication process during the meeting, so in principle has no power in, and over the organization. If a decision has to be made, a chairman should be neutral in the decision-making. This makes it impossible for management to simultaneously act as chairman, to remain neutral, and get involved in the discussion / decision-making.
A chairman determines, for example, which agenda items are selected and discussed. However, certainly with an external chairman, this is discussed with the customer and during the start of the meeting will all participants.
Meetings and business meetings are essential for good cooperation and will remain important in the present and future. However, it is advisable to limit meeting inefficiencies and frustrations as much as possible.
Are you in need of an external chairman? Contact us and we will ensure that your meeting runs effectively and with as little frustration as possible.