With the advent of fast technology and even faster deadlines, one would think that corporate meetings would be more efficient in today's work environment. But according to Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal, employees may be finding it harder to remain focused and efficient during office hours than ever before.
In her article, "Meet the Meeting Killers," Shellenbarger presents a wide range of issues that can come up during meetings, all of which prevent successful communication between people, as well as productive use of time.
Shellenbarger reports that "too many meetings" was the No. 1 time-waster at the office, this according to a study by career site Salary.com earlier this year.
"Office workers spend four hours a week in meetings on average, and they regard more than half of that time as wasted," she adds.
Why so much wasted time? Shellenbarger blames it on the inability of people to successfully communicate their thoughts, opinions and needs to each other. No matter how effective a meeting leader may be, others at the table can easily derail the meeting.
According the Shellenbarger, everyone commits the "miscommunication" crime at some point. In her article, she names a few of the more common workplace "criminals," humorously rating their level of annoyance to others.
First up is "the Jokester," a minor annoyance guilty of "assault with a deadly punch line." The Jokester tries to pull a funny one more often than necessary and at inappropriate times.
Moving up to the level of moderate annoyance is "The Rambler." Guilty of "inflicting death by boredom," The Rambler takes discussions to far away places so people forget why they're there in the first place.
Next come the first degree offenders:
"The Dominator" greatly overestimates the value of his or her personal views, disrupting discussion and inducing information overkill.
"The Quiet Plotter" practices passive-aggressive insubordination. He or she remains quiet in a meeting, and then later undermines bosses and decisions.
"The Naysayer" is guilty of premeditated negativity and waits until consensus is almost reached, then derails the meeting with serious objections.
Shellenbarger says such "meeting killers" result in lack of accomplishment, unnecessary tension, and longer meetings.
"Co-workers wander off topic, send texts, disrupt decision-making or behave in other dysfunctional ways."
Of course, "dysfunctional" can mean a lot of things. According to Elizabeth Bernstein, also a writer for The Wall Street Journal, this word defines a common workplace sentiment. When employees begin to feel like their office is dysfunctional, they whine.
In her article, "For a Nation of Whiners, Therapists Try Tough Love", Bernstein presents what could easily be a sixth workplace criminal, "The Constant Whiner."
Whining, while committed by everyone at some point, can really decrease the morale of a group of people.
"It brings down the mood of everyone within earshot. It can keep whiners stuck in a problem, rather than working to identify a solution. It can be toxic to relationships," Bernstein says.
Chronic complaining, as Bernstein describes it, has become an unfortunate side effect of poor relationships in the office, inefficient meetings and lack of cooperation. She also reminds us that whining takes time that could be better spent creating actual solutions and accomplishing goals in the conference room. Whether it's at the big table or behind your desk, spend that time making yourself useful, not voicing complaints.
Of course, this is all advice we've heard before. Fortunately, both authors provide a few practical tips for moving things along, particularly in meetings.
- Set a clear agenda.
- Redirect people back to the agenda when they ramble or digress.
- Draw out quiet people by asking them in advance for a specific contribution.
- Do a "round robin" when appropriate, to allow everyone to contribute.
- Interrupt people who talk too long or talk to each other.
- Set an ending time for the meeting and stick to it.
Still, sounds like common sense we've all heard before. Perhaps that's why entrepreneur and anti-marketing guru Seth Godin proposes more radical solutions in his blog:
1. Understand that all problems are not the same. So why are you meeting? Does every issue deserve an hour? Why is there a default length?
2. Schedule meetings in increments of five minutes. Require that the meeting organizer have a truly great reason to need more than four increments of real time face time.
3. Require preparation. Give people things to read or do before the meeting, and if they don't, kick them out.
4. Remove all the chairs from the conference room. I'm serious.
5. If someone is more than two minutes later than the last person to the meeting, they have to pay a fine of $10 to the coffee fund.
6. Bring an egg timer to the meeting. When it goes off, you're done. Not your fault, it's the timer's.
7. The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.
9. If you're not adding value to a meeting, leave. You can always read the summary later.
Sound too radical for your organization? Maybe. But if you recognize any Jokesters, Ramblers, Quiet Plotters, Dominators, Naysayers or Whiners, you might consider giving Seth's idea a shot. How could it hurt?
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