How to Break the Curse of Unwanted Meetings

What’s your tactic for enduring boring meetings? Whether you write your shopping list, play buzzword bingo, or just zone out, the outcome is usually the same: even less time to finish the work you needed to get done.

Constance Noonan Hadley, a lecturer in management & organizations at Boston University Questrom School of Business and an expert on group processes and emotions at work, has helped create a five-step plan for analyzing meeting culture and kicking unnecessary confabs off the books. She developed the plan with researchers at Harvard Business School after surveying 182 executives and consulting with companies struggling to hit organizational goals. During their research, Hadley and her colleagues confirmed what you probably already suspect: a majority of senior managers believe too many meetings are unproductive, prevent them from getting work done, and don’t bring teams closer together.

Having implemented the plan at a range of companies, Hadley says she’s been surprised at its success in fixing organizational problems, such as missed corporate goals. “A few years ago, I would have said meetings are just a symptom of dysfunction—you need to go at the underlying cause,” she says. But she found that when companies just rethink meetings, a lot of the dysfunction “takes care of itself.”

In one company that followed Hadley and her colleagues’ plan, employees reported a 42 percent rise in collaboration, while work/life balance satisfaction jumped from 62 percent to more than 90 percent.

Ending the Meeting Misery

Here’s your five-step plan:

AUDIT Interview each team member about what’s on their calendar—and how they feel about it. It’s best if the interview is independent.

REVIEW TOGETHER Work as a group to dissect the interview data for patterns and paint points.

AGREE ON A GOAL Develop goals that people feel personally invested in such as meeting-free days and technology-free meetings. Loose, corporate goals like “more efficient meeting” are unlikely to stick.

ASSESS REGULARLY There may be resistance, so be sure to check in regularly at first to keep everyone on task and deal with any roadblock.

HAVE A MEETING Yes, have a meeting. Regrouping in a regular, targeted way can ensure new processes have staying power and allow tensions to air in the open.

For a deeper dive into Hadley’s five steps to break the curse of unwanted meetings read the complete article, The Curse Of Meetings: Imagine A Day Without A Single Meeting Darkening Your Calendar.

Read the complete research findings in Harvard Business Review.

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