Why Your Meetings Stink—And What to Do About It

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Why Your Meetings Stink—And What to Do About It LoadingADD TO FAVORITES

Dave, a senior VP at a large U.S. bank, was a strong one-on-one manager.  However, 360-degree feedback revealed that he struggled in one critical area: leading effective meetings.  Multiple employees described his meetings as “a time suck.”  They complained that he asked them to meet too often, allowed a few people to dominate conversations, and failed to create an environment where attendees really wrestled with ideas and engaged in critical thinking.  These comments took Dave by complete surprise.  He thought he was doing a good job with meetings.

Dave is not the first manager to overestimate his abilities in this area. Research suggests that of the twenty-three hours that executives spend in meetings each week, on average, eight are unproductive.  Some 90 percent of people report daydreaming in meetings, and 73 percent admit that they use meeting time to do other work.  And yet research by Steven G. Rogelberg and others, cited in the January-February Harvard Business Review shows that leaders consistently rate their own meetings very favorably and much more positively than attendees do.  For instance, a telephone survey of more than 1,300 managers found that while 79 percent of them said that meetings they initiated were extremely or very productive, only 56 percent said the same about meetings initiated by others; that’s clear evidence of an “I’m not the problem” attitude. 

Additional research provides insight into why.  In a study with Jiajin Tong of Peking University, Rogelberg found that the attendees who are the most active are the ones who feel that meetings are the most effective and satisfying.  And who typically talks the most? The leader.

When leaders assume that their meetings are going well, they are less apt to solicit feedback and seek opportunities to improve.  As a result, frustrations that attendees commonly cite in surveys (such as irrelevant agenda items, overly long duration, lack of focus) persist, leaving them disgruntled and disengaged.  And the associated costs are significant.  Apart from the actual time wasted—estimated to be more than $30 billion a year in the United States alone—there are opportunity costs of employees’ not working on...

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