Meetings are ineffective.
Partly due to improvements in technology, costs of organizing and conducting meetings have dropped significantly. Ironically, the number of meetings has also increased. A recent study of 17 large corporations in the United States revealed that one large company spent 300,000 hours a year in meetings. On average, 15 percent of an organization’s collective time is spent on meetings.
As an organizational tool, meetings serve a variety of purposes. In theory, they are organized for decision-making, training of employees, sharing of information, brainstorming, coordination of activities, problem solving, among others. In practice, there is a perpetual attempt to achieve these purposes. However, there is at least one claim that more than one-third of time spent on meetings is not necessarily productive. Moreover, up to two-thirds of these meetings may fail to meet their intended goals. Most employees, as participants, perceive meetings as ineffective and a total waste of time.
A survey of various popular research results has validated what most employees have long suspected. Although participation in meetings is required, employees felt that most meetings have little or no relevance in the performance of their work.
In most meetings, the agenda is general and boring. Notwithstanding that this could be distributed in advance, participants have to guess the purpose of the meeting. The agenda lists the contents but seldom the objectives. This is especially true when meetings are routine.
Most participants are not prepared. Since the objective is unclear, they would limit themselves, at most, to minimal research and waste time with the most basic questions in the meeting. Some artificially mimic intelligence by rephrasing or summarizing preceding points. Others parrot and echo the dominant view.
With no explicit objectives and a bunch of clueless participants, the focus is on discussions, not decisions. The wish is that directions will emerge from the discourse. These meetings are often cloaked in egalitarian sounding labels such as “dialogue”, “group discussion”, “information sharing,” “learning group,” etc.
As a result, it is no surprise that most employees are faking it in meetings. In “Less Acting, More Doing”, researchers call this surface acting. It is defined as faking one’s appropriate emotions to fit a context. When an employee puts on the nicest smile even when he is frustrated with the discussion, his expression is not consistent with his internal emotional state. Published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, the article posits that faking one’s emotions takes away one’s ability to pay attention in meetings. When participants believe that they are not free to express dissent in a meeting, the meeting is perceived as ineffective. Employees who surface act end up emotionally exhausted. Some signify strong intent to leave the organization.
According to the Virginia Carilion Research Institute, social cues in meetings trigger responses from participants that impair mental processes and debilitate problem solving abilities. In a way, it confirmed the perception that meetings do not only make us “feel dead”, they make us “brain dead” as well.
Perhaps this explains why the most common question when a meeting is called is “What’s the food?”
Real Carpio So teaches strategic management, human resource management, organizational behavior and management of organizations at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at \firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.