As one year ends and another begins, we reflect on the past year, set intentions, and consider what habits to modify or create to support our vision for the next year. At the start of 2017, we invite you to examine your meeting habits (yes, behaviors around meetings can be habits!). Do these habits support or harm your productivity efforts? Can you resolve to replace poor meeting habits with more effective ones?
Employees waste a lot of time in unproductive meetings
The average employee spends 31 hours per month in unproductive business meetings, equivalent to a collective annual 37 billion dollars in salary costs. Between meetings, email, and other interruptions, about 60% of working time is spent putting out fires and maintaining the status quo rather than moving work forward.
Yet executed effectively, meetings can provide a meaningful context to make decisions, share insights and ideas, build relationships, and manifest culture. Get ready to reclaim your time and bring more ease to your work life by breaking poor meeting habits!
What do meeting habits look like?
First, we need to understand the nature of a habit. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg shares MIT research that uncovers a neurological loop consisting of three parts - cue, routine, and reward - that form the core of every habit.
So how does it work? A cue triggers a pattern of routine behavior. The routine is reinforced by the reward so the next time the same cue occurs, the cycle repeats. When you want to break a bad habit, start by identifying the elements in the habit loop.
Imagine this scenario:
You attend every meeting to which you’re invited - even if you don’t really need to be there. Many of these meetings waste time or are not relevant to your work. You leave most meetings feeling unhappy and resentful.
Cue: The meeting invitation. Whether it’s an email, a memo, or a phone call, the meeting invitation triggers your routine behavior.
Routine: Click “Going” and attend the meeting. You have not seriously considered the option of declining a meeting invite because you don’t think your manager would approve or it’s just “not done” at your place of work.
Reward: You feel important or in the know. You might spend the meeting time daydreaming, responding to emails, or stressing over other work you should be doing, but at least you’re where everyone else is. Plus, you’ve avoided the awkward conversation about why you didn’t want to attend that meeting.
Accepting meeting invitations by default is an unexamined meeting habit in many organizations, even when the benefits of higher priority work far outweigh the benefits of attendance.
Breaking bad meeting habits
As Duhigg explains, the most effective way to shift a habit is not to change the cue or reward, but to focus on changing the routine. Next time you receive a meeting invitation (the cue), don’t immediately click “going.” Pause, and check the meeting agenda or details first (new routine). Then decide whether attending the meeting is the best use of your time. If there’s no agenda available, reach out to the meeting leader to learn about the goal of the meeting, how you can best contribute to the conversation, or how to stay informed if you miss the meeting. This new routine yields the rewards of reclaimed time and less stress and distraction so you can focus on higher priority work.
Convinced that developing better meeting habits should be a priority for 2017? Create one of these three new habits, or all three of them over time!
New Meeting Habit #1: Set desired outcomes for your meetings
Why: Meeting without a goal will likely lead nowhere. Setting a desired outcome helps define what success will look like for your meeting. It also prompts you to consider if holding a meeting is the most appropriate way to achieve the goal, instead of emails or other forms of communication.
Cue: Send meeting invitation.
Routine: Include the desired outcome in the invitation so everyone knows the purpose of the meeting.
Reward: Everyone is on the same page, leading to more focused conversation and a better chance of achieving the desired outcome.
New Habit #2: Use a backburner to keep conversation focused
Why: Meeting conversations can drift, so that you find yourself in a totally different conversation from what was intended. You spend time discussing, debating, and deciding something other than what you intended to decide.
Cue: Conversation veers off topic.
Routine: Acknowledge that the new topic is important but not urgent, and capture the emerging topic on a whiteboard, post-it note, or shared screen so the team can return to it another time. Guide the conversation back to the original topic.
Reward: Participants’ time is respected and valued. There is less frustration and resentment toward the individuals that drove the conversation off-track. You achieve the desired meeting outcomes, and new ideas or topics are noted for later.
New Habit #3: Decide who will do what by when
Why: Meeting conversations can be robust, but without clear accountability it’s hard to achieve effective follow-through.
Cue: A few minutes before the meeting ends (assign a timekeeper to note this or set an alarm).
Routine: Ask these questions: What have we decided to do next? Who is going to ensure the actions get done and by when? Assign someone in the room to record the information and share it with the team.
Reward: The team is confident that things will get done. There is improved follow-through on meeting outcomes and work moves forward.
If you’ve ready to change your routines to create positive meeting habits, share this article with colleagues and find an accountability partner to start implementing the practices. Improving these meeting habits may just transform your team’s meeting culture for the better!
Which meeting habits would you like to cultivate in 2017?