Lessons learned in changing meeting culture

It started with everyone being frustrated. One research report showed that employees spend 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings. Another report, drawing from Microsoft’s survey, showed that employees spend nearly a full workday’s time (5.6 hours) in meetings and 69% of them feel ineffective. This sort of frustration resonates with our organizations’ experience, so we were fueled with the desire to making meetings better. We tackled this organizational development problem by gathering the intelligence from a multidisciplinary team composed of an assessment consultant, research scientist, eLearning instructional designer, project manager, and psychometrician.

We knew that simply posting new meeting rules won’t stick with employees. Our proposed solution was to change the meeting culture by leveraging technology and teaching a new meeting process. We included a pre-intervention survey and invited meeting facilitation trainers to teach us ways to work better. It was a long and arduous one year of work, and this is what I found.

1. Remote Workers Suffer Most

We surveyed 71 employees in our organization and we found that 82% of the respondents said that meeting time is wasted because of technology issues, such as loading a teleconferencing software quickly. Moreover, training on virtual meetings also seem to be absent and it feels like people forget some practices can make virtual participation easier and smoother (see Tripp and Tyler’s ‘A Conference Call in Real Life’ video as a reference). Remote working isn’t a sin and they shouldn’t be this agonizing. How did we tackle this problem then? As a first step, we deliberately included a remote worker in the team to design and strategize for our new meeting culture.

2.Leverage Technology to Change Meeting Culture

Drawing from psychological research, we learned that changing meeting culture effectively is not by telling people what to do. Changing a culture involves changing behaviors of people. Changing behavioral habits involves new practices convenient and easy. One thing that would make an unproductive meeting more productive is to be more intentional, like preparing an agenda to know why we’re meeting and start and end the meeting on time. Preparing an agenda and keeping time for the meeting seem like a lot of work, so to encourage this habit, we investigated how we can automate calendar invites with an agenda template and ways to have a pop-up timer in meeting room computers.

3.Norms Work

After gathering every team’s feedback, we created an organization-wide meeting norm five months ago. Since then, we heard from different teams that they liked having structure for how we want to run our meetings. We found that norms are the best proactive technique for minimizing conflict.

Why do we put this much work into changing how we meet? Isn’t it easier to stop having that many meetings in the first place? No. Meetings are useful as a tool. Although it seems weird there’s so much thought into how to run meetings, we now have a tried-and-true strategy and process that can foster productivity in organizations.

Share your thoughts and strategies on how your organization makes the most of meetings.

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