Many SMEs start out with high touch management and a highly collaborative culture. And many people are involved in decisions and discussions – usually through team meetings.
Even if they’re not personally involved they usually know the people who make critical decisions well and tend to trust them.
As companies succeed and grow it becomes evident that not everyone can be involved in everything and we need to be more selective about who gets to take part. This is a critical inflection point in growing a successful corporate culture.
The tensions often play out in team meetings; who should be invited and who should be involved in decisions? Explaining to people that they won’t be involved in future can be a difficult discussion but if we don’t have these discussions we can be strangled by too many meetings and slow decision making.
During out research for our new book “Kill Bad Meetings”, we found that managers and professional people spend an average of two days per week in meetings and half of it was considered to be irrelevant.
It seems simple to improve team meetings and a lot of companies have tried to do this as they grow. Many have found short term improvements hard to sustain. After an initial period of improvement, bad meeting habits creep back.
One key reason that team meetings are hard to cut is that companies jump straight to trying to improve their meeting facilitation skills without understanding the corporate cultural challenges that make them meet so often.
Your meetings reflect your corporate culture
In a small, high involvement corporate culture we tend to know everyone and are usually in the same location. Team meetings are relatively inexpensive and it may be an efficient way to communicate to invite everyone along. This feels pretty good when you are a small organisation and helps build a sense of community.
However, as we grow, the efficiency of our meetings and decision-making tends to reduce. The more people we have involved the longer meetings take and the harder it is make decisions.
When we start to realise that we have to be more selective about involvement we can often clash with the corporate cultural expectation that everyone should be involved and know what’s going on. Whilst this sounds admirable it eventually leads to an increase in bureaucracy, too many meetings and slow decision-making.
As we take steps to streamline our meetings and decisions we have to find new mechanisms for retaining what is good about our corporate culture and evolving it to deal with a more complex and growing business.
This is a constant challenging even for very large organisations. One example in the book is from a large packaged goods organisation calculated they spent $500m per year on unnecessary team meetings and that this drove another $400m per year in unnecessary travel.
Even bad meetings have useful by-products
Another factor that makes team meetings difficult to cut is that even the worst meetings have useful by-products; they allow us to network, stay visible to our colleagues and are an important source of communication and involvement.
If we simply cancel team meetings then these useful by-products will be missed. If we really want to make a sustainable change then, as we reduce the number of meetings, we will need to find new mechanisms for better communication or visibility.
It’s sure that the best way to be visible isn’t to sit in the back of boring and irrelevant meeting hoping to be noticed and the best way to be kept up-to-date isn’t to sit through long team meetings hoping something will be relevant.
It’s important to frame changes to your meetings culture in ways that are appropriate to your corporate culture and to make sure that you allow people to find new ways to get the useful by-products.
In Kill Bad Meetings, we outline some simple techniques for businesses:
(1) Building a business case to improve team meetings and overcome corporate cultural barriers to change. When 20 per cent of the time of your most expensive people is consumed by irrelevant meetings it is not hard to get a return on investment in a making a change.
(2) Saving a day a week by identifying and removing the 40 per cent of meeting content and ten per cent of meeting participants who don’t need to be there.
(3) Accelerating decisions by streamlining involvement and clarifying decision-making rights and processes in meetings.
(4) Designing much shorter, more focused meetings with clearer outcomes and process.
(5) Creating much higher levels of participation and engagement in face-to-face and virtual meetings.
Meetings might seem quite a tactical topic to focus on but fixing meetings can have a big impact on our corporate culture as we grow.
Meetings are where collaboration happens, where decisions are made and where people spend a lot of their least favourite time. If we can make our meetings more effective we get improvements in cost, efficiency and engagement.
Kevan Hall, an experienced CEO, and Alan Hall, a millennial manager, are the authors of Kill Bad Meetings[rb_inline_related]
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