By Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D
According to a recent survey, only roughly half of the business meetings workers attend are considered productive. While 35% of professionals are in six or more meetings each week, 46% of those attendees leave meetings without a clear understanding of the next action item. In addition, missing the information needed to complete projects and prioritizing what to do next were cited as the biggest stressors for workers. And for those who said they are unhappy with their company’s management process, the number of people who attend at least 6 meetings a week jumped to 40% (from 35%).
Unproductive, unhappy, stressful, ineffective – sound familiar? We can’t go on meeting like this – or at least we shouldn’t.
Recently, I spoke with Andrew Filev, the founder and CEO of Wrike to get his top tips for making meetings in the workplace more effective and efficient.
Carol Kinsey Goman: You must hate going to meetings!
Andrew Filev: A lot of people hate meetings, but I actually like them. Not just any meeting though; I like meetings that involve the right people who are well prepared, are focused on solving a problem, and where people engage with a sense of purpose. One way to make meetings matter is to first think through exactly when and why you need them – and do this every time you attend or create one.
Goman: I have a preference for face-to-face interaction, but I know we are in an increasingly technologically-connected world.
Filev: Yes, in fact we’re now so habitually focused on electronic communication that people use it as a default even when a face-to-face meeting would get the job done better. It doesn’t make sense to labor over something through email if you can reconcile it in person. Working a problem out on a white board for 10 minutes is much faster than turning the same conversation into a three-day email thread.
Goman: Face-to-face does put a greater burden on the leader, though, because the influence of nonverbal cues is so strong.
Filev: When you’re a CEO or leader in a meeting, people watch how you act more closely. Anything you say or do can change the tone, so you need to have a thoughtful, consistent presence. This can include your posture and body language, and the quality of questions and contributions you bring. If you appear skeptical, then a good idea may get shot down. If you appear enthusiastic, a bad idea may get implemented.
Goman: If you had to give your top tip for making meetings more productive, what would it be?
Filev: A lot of whether a meeting is productive or not boils down to presence. If attendees are actually mentally present and engaged, a joint sense of purpose will emerge much faster. People shouldn’t be checking their phones or answering emails. Whether or not someone is present is obvious to everyone else, and it can suck the energy out of the room.
Goman: Absolutely. As one member of a management team told me, “There’s this senior exec in our department who has a reputation of being totally addicted to his Smart Phone. He is constantly on the machine during internal meetings. When he finally focuses on others, peers make jokes about his ‘coming back to earth.’ We know he’s not tracking the conversation because he keeps asking questions that have been already responded to. The result is that when he does contribute, he has no credibility.”
Filev: I’d agree with that! If you were to look at a photograph of your last meeting, you’d probably be able to tell right away who was present mentally and who wasn’t. It’s in their posture, and their eye contact and participation.
Goman: So how can I improve my presence?
Filev: You can improve your presence by being well prepared, giving others in the room your complete attention, and asking questions. Even if you’re not the leader of the group, what you do as a contributor can change the tone.
Goman: This sounds a lot like mindfulness.
Filev: It’s part of it. What mindfulness means to me, very simply, is awareness of what you’re feeling and the ability to diagnose why. Mindfulness is important when you’re reacting to information in a meeting, and especially as a leader, because your emotions are magnified in the room.
Mindfulness also applies to an awareness of physiology, which can affect our impact on meetings as well. We all lose energy or get grouchy when we’re hungry or tired, even if we don’t notice it. A recent study found that a group of parole judges decisions’ were directly affected by the time that has passed after their last meal.
Goman: This is also why body language is so important – because your true intentions and emotions tend to “leak’ in a variety of nonverbal cues that are picked up consciously (or subconsciously) by your audience.
Filev: Being able to step back and examine what you’re feeling is critical because as you pointed out, it will be displayed in your body language whether you mean to or not. Through mindfulness, we can control our appearance and our temperament, and focus on making meaningful and deliberate contributions.
Goman: Great tips for making meetings more effective, efficient, and enjoyable. Thank you.