How important is it to manage meetings efficiently? Some estimates of time spent in business meetings range from 40 to 60 percent. Nearly half of most managers' work hours are spent in meetings! What are the usual complaints about meetings? "Boring!" "Off the topic!" "Waste of time!" Most of us have endured poorly run meetings in which the communication goes in circles, and nothing is accomplished. Yet, how much time, energy, and money do we spend meeting? Most organizations spend between 7 and 15 percent of personnel budgets on meetings. Community groups are literally run by meetings. Much of this effort may be volunteer, so there may not be a monetary cost, but there is a time cost, and time is a valuable resource to most people. Let's look at time spent at work.
In essence, if you have a paying job, you rent out a certain number of hours of your daily life to your employer. Your employer expects a certain amount of accomplishment during those hours, given your training and work ethic. As an employee, you expect management to supply the necessary resources you need to accomplish your work: adequate supplies, equipment in good working order, guidance in how the company wants the work done, and an evaluation procedure to tell when you succeed or fail.
Where does meeting management fall in all this? After all, don't most people know how to communicate? Isn't it logical to assume that if people know how to talk to one another, groups of people ought to be able to get together, come to decisions, and go on with their other work? Besides, email messaging and chat rooms are available now; maybe we don't even need meetings anymore. The end result is using human communication skills productively in the work environment. Granted, we can reduce communication to its lowest common denominator through this thinking. However, this thought pattern fails to recognize the complexity of human beings and our society. A key word in the end result statement is "productively." Many meetings are unnecessary, for example when things could be accomplished through other means, there's no reason to meet, the wrong people attend, or there's not enough time to prepare properly. In these instances, spare everyone and don't have a meeting.
On the other hand, most organizations couldn't function without meetings. Across America, leaders are guiding small groups of people through the process of communicating in a limited time frame. People have to communicate in groups to get things done. Sitting down face to face with group members is an effective way to accomplish tasks. When people gather to communicate, they can react to others' comments, ask questions, voice arguments, process information, and ultimately produce better decisions. They can pool their knowledge and experiences, so that the group becomes more than the sum of its parts.
A further plus for quality meetings is that they meet workers' needs for feeling part of a group or being a team member. People have a need for togetherness, trust, and belonging, and the meeting process fosters this. In today's cubically-organized and computer-oriented work world, meetings ease loneliness and help distribute the workload. Effective meetings help develop a sense of commitment to organizations, as well as a feeling of contributing solutions to a problem—a sense of having accomplished something worthwhile. Even if solutions proposed are not what all group members originally supported, at least they feel "heard" through the process and are more likely to support the solution selected after group deliberation. Sometimes meetings provide the only time members see themselves as a group. With flexible hours, varying work shifts, telecommuting, and persons essentially operating as solo units of responsibility especially in government and higher education organizations, group experiences affect how people feel about their organization. Meetings also have a ripple effect throughout organizations in that one manager or faculty member or GS 7 government employee returning from a frustrating time or a well-orchestrated event may impact 15 other managers, 30 students in a classroom, or a 50-person department. Thus, meetings can be tremendously positive or negative in organizations. Improving meetings can improve not only communication, but also morale and productivity in the workforce.
An added benefit to learning to conduct efficient and effective meetings is the benefit to your image. When others see you "in action" in meetings, they form opinions about your competence based on what they see and hear. If you are able to sift information to find the issues that matter, get groups to deliberate these issues, and get consensus on decisions with these issues, you can become known as a skillful leader. Another consideration which should interest you is that leading a group—that is, determining meeting process and content—is very powerful. If you can control the process—who speaks, how long they can speak, guiding decision making, and summarizing—you can determine to a large extent what happens. Process can control content, and that's the core of meeting management. Once you learn how to manage meetings, you can manage them anywhere: churches, homes, support groups, neighborhood associations, youth groups, civic organizations, as well as your workplace. Key to good management is preparing for meetings. In this resource, you will find guidance on organizing your message and presenting it effectively, so that people listen and are persuaded by your words and your presence. You will learn how to conduct information-giving, problem-solving, and decision-making meetings. The structure provided is one you can take anywhere and adapt to your setting.