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The ineffective meetings
conspiracy !

"Serge, you are contributing to ineffective meetings : either you are daydreaming, or you are aggressive or you are busy doing some other work. Your are upsetting your colleagues and, much worse, even sometimes clients !".

Eddy, my boss, had taken me for lunch to the restaurant , when I was an associate Partner at Arthur D. Little Brussels back in 1996, to give me this feedback. This was a stressful period of my life and I felt like a big hole was eating up my stomach and a cloud of dust was filling my head and obscuring my thoughts.  So my first reaction was to deny my responsibility: "Most meetings are ineffective anyway", as I had red recently (Smart 1974) , "so this is not my fault !". Eddy gave me some concrete examples, but I was in denial mode. So it took me a couple of weeks to revisit this issue: observe the meetings I was participating to and practice my responsibility in meetings.

And I came to the conclusion that:

  • I was spending a lot of time in meetings: 15 to 20%
  • Many meetings were definitively not very effective
  • Everybody, including me, seemed to accept, or be resigned on, this situation

I began then to use or suggest "After Action Review" - with limited success - at the end of meetings. But the situation did not improve significantly.

Are you also a victim, and an actor, of the meetings conspiracy:
spending too much time in ineffective meetings ?
If yes, stay with me, a solution is in sight ...

Last year - 10 years later - , I was facilitating a team who came to the same conclusion and they challenged me, as a team coach, to come up with a more powerful answer than using "After Action Review" at the end of every meeting, still with limited success.

First let us agree on the symptoms, consequences and how we approach usually this problem.

The symptoms: 

  • A generalized problem: many managers from different companies, sizes and industries, complain about meeting ineffectiveness
  • A long lasting problem: more than 30 years ago, one survey (Smart 1974) of 635 executives showed that 75% of them were "bothered" by the ineffectiveness of their meetings
  • A very stable problem: the apparent causes for ineffective meetings have not changed significantly since 30 years (Smart 1974): poor/lack of preparation, dominant or absent participation, drifting off subjects, lack of listening...

The consequences are obvious: huge amounts of lost time and money.

And replacing face-to-face meetings by telephone (or Skype)conferences or virtual meetings reduces somehow the lost time and money, but does absolutely not address the root causes of ineffective meetings : defensive interactions

To solve this problem, we are using the same approach since 30 years, which has not delivered significant results: teaching managers the "best practices" of effective meetings. How many days did you spend in some kind of "meeting training" ? How many times did you see the "10 rules of effective meetings" poster in a meeting room where you were going through a poor meeting ?

I am not going to give you another list of effective meetings practices: this did not work for the last 30 years and this will not start working now !

So when we look at a team building technique to help improve the effectiveness of meetings, we should ask:

Return from ineffective meetings to root team building issues

Return from ineffective meetings to team building results

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