How to resolve a bad meetings culture

Far too many organisations are suffering from a bad meetings culture, but have little idea how to resolve the issues.

There’s no one-size-fits-all, quick-fix solution – it’s more a case of working out where it’s going wrong and what’s best for you.

Many initiatives begin with the intention of getting to grips with the problem, without ever actually solving it. This leads to an expectation that meetings are going to be bad, so it becomes the norm and people start to simply accept it. Any business that has reached this stage should take a step back and re-think its strategies.

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Meetings are supposed to be beneficial to the individual employees and the company as a whole, so if people are viewing them as a waste of time, something has gone seriously wrong. It’s time to stage an intervention and sort it out.

First, you need to establish why you have a bad meetings culture. What are the main reasons?

Poor training

If you’re just paying lip service to training and then throwing managers in at the deep end by expecting them to organise great meetings, this can create a problem. You think you’ve done your bit by sending your managers on a half-day training course about how to run a successful meeting, but you can’t resolve a meetings problem with a one-off intervention.

Managers need time to master the required skills to instigate a change in the meetings culture – and this is something that happens over time. Don’t expect overnight results and then give up when you don’t see them!

Changing expectations

Any organisation’s meetings reflect the expectations of the employees, based on the business’s dominant culture. This comes from the top, so if the boss doesn’t follow good practices in terms of presentation and content, nor will the project managers and team leaders.

When anyone meets, they base their knowledge of what’s expected on the behaviour of those further up the ladder. If the boss doesn’t make it interesting and useful, the feeling is that nobody else need bother.

It’s impossible to resolve a chronic meetings problem from the bottom up. Any change in culture must begin at the top and filter its way down through the ranks. In short, you can’t send your employees on a short training course on how to handle a meeting if the people at the top are exhibiting poor practices themselves.

Everyone matters

Not training enough people to understand the company’s culture can also lead to problems. If you concentrate on only a few project managers and junior managers, due to cost or logistical factors, the majority of the staff won’t receive the relevant training.

Studies have suggested that less than 25% of managers receive any meeting skills training. If the people who are supposed to lead the meetings don’t have the proper skills, what hope is there that they can pass on the relevant knowledge to their teams?

Meetings can’t succeed due to the efforts of a minority of skilled people. They aren’t an individual performance event but more a team effort. Although individual performance counts, it can’t carry the company.

Every member of staff should be trained to the appropriate level. Look on a meeting as a team sport, which everyone should know how to play.

Timing matters

If meetings continually start late, this will frustrate delegates who arrive on time and will instil a culture that discipline isn’t important. If 12 people have been sitting in a room for ten minutes waiting for one to arrive, they immediately have a sense of wasted time, and the meeting couldn’t get off to a worse start than if the majority of delegates were silently seething!

A recent survey revealed 35% of employees felt their meetings were a waste of time. Most meetings started late, frustrating those who arrived on time or early. This can become a cultural phenomenon – if it’s anticipated that the meetings will start ten minutes late, other people will think it’s okay for them to arrive late. Before you know it, hundreds of people will find themselves sitting around, wasting time, because their colleagues haven’t turned up.

These minutes can soon add up to hours of working time lost over one year. The answer is to nip this culture in the bud before it gets a grip.

Find out if there’s a genuine reason why some people are arriving late – such as back-to-back meetings, or travelling time to another site. Rectify any issues by scheduling meetings at mutually convenient times.

Once you know that the majority of delegates are physically able to arrive on time, focus on the individuals who are habitually late, with no reason other than their own bad time management. Have one-to-one meetings with them to find out why this is the case.

Once you have everyone on the same page, with meetings starting on time, employees will notice the change and the culture will begin to alter.

In general terms, if you’re scheduling meetings that break up the day in an illogical way, interfering with peak flow times, it could be time to re-think the schedule.

For example, if delegates are travelling to the meeting from various sites, scheduling it in the middle of the day means more time is wasted as they return to their own workplace afterwards. It’s far better to schedule it for either first thing in the morning, or late in the afternoon, to avoid double the travelling time.

Once you begin to recognise how and why your organisation has a bad meetings culture, you’ve taken the first step towards fixing it.

Make sure your meetings get off to the best start by taking advantage of &Meetings’ affordable services. When you need to hire a meeting room, give us a call on 0800 073 0499 to find out more about our quality venues at sensible prices.

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