Are Humans Incapable of Good Meetings?
We spend much of our time in meetings, yet this time is less effective than it might be and is consequently frustrating. We know how to have good meetings. Even a simple agenda in advance is a major step forward, yet as many as 63% of U.S. meetings take place without an agenda. Katerina Bezrukova Chester Spell, and I think that humans may have a cognitive bias against making good process changes -- just like other biases where our brains consistanty keep us from acting based on the facts.
In 1999, Van Vree found that managers in companies with 500 or more people spend about 75% of their time in meetings. A 2005 Microsoft sponsored survey of 38,000 people in 200 countries found employees in meetings for an average of 5.6 hours per week -- that 69% say are not productive.
We have extensive research showing how to have good meetings - largely focused on the simple task of creating an agenda so people can prepare and mange the time -- but we don't do it. Why not?
We think simple human mental short-cuts are to blame. We believe that meetings are often held with little thought due to habits of mind and weak triggers for sensemaking to jar us out of well-practiced, ineffective modes. We hold meetings the way we've always held meetings -- poorly.
Meir Statman, a colleague of mine, has a new book out called What Investors Really Want: Discover What Drives Investor Behavior and Make Smarter Financial Decisions. He outlines how cogntive biases are at the root of why so many of us make bad investment decisions. His solution (and Warren Buffet agrees) is to use the disicipline of automatic investments into index funds.
I'll offer that we should do the same thing with meetings. If it's a human condition that we will not default to using an agenda -- then we have to use our process and technology to make it happen.
What process and technology adjustments can you - or have you - made to make agendas a common piece of your meeting toolkit? Can you schedule a conference room without an agenda, or does your calendaring system block you? Do you feel comfortable denying meeting requests without agendas? Do you email back with a request for agenda when you aren't offered one?