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“80% of success is showing up!”

Woody Allen, movie actor, comedian, director (b. 1935)

As professionals achieve greater success in an organization, they tend to spend more time considering strategic options in meetings. Many in management positions spend more than 50% of their average work week in meetings, in addition to the time spent preparing for and performing tasks assigned in a meeting.1-3 It sometimes seems as if an endless stream of meetings leaves no time to catch up.

Hofstra University and Harrison Consulting Services determined that three-fourths of business leaders spend more time in meetings now than they did a few years ago and expect to spend even more time in meetings a few years from now.3 This huge expenditure of time would be acceptable if participants believed meetings were a valuable use of time. Yet people who regularly attend meetings often state that the meetings are the bane of their existence and actually interfere with accomplishing their objectives. Many wonder how much easier their lives would be if they did not have to participate in so many. A poll of 471 management leaders conducted by Communispond reported that 70% of the participants found meetings “a waste of time.”2 A more recent study of 38,000 Microsoft employees determined that 70% found meetings unproductive.4 Accountemps found that an average executive spends 2 months each year in unnecessary meetings.5

Why Meetings Fail

“Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.”

John Kenneth Galbraith, economist (1908-2006)

When asked, “Why did this meeting fail?” the typical response describes one or a combination of three factors6-8 (Box 9-1):

  • Poor leadership: The chair is disorganized and does not establish order or control input in a disciplined fashion. The meeting leader may be overly talkative, insisting in his or her point of view or conversely, so reserved and reticent, that there is little or no leadership input. The chair may not establish or follow the agenda and have little regard for the time of the participants. This type of chair creates barriers to effective communication.
  • Poor participants: The participating members are not engaged because they are disinterested (information not relevant to them), routinely unprepared or late (not held accountable), or participating in other endeavors (side-conversations, web-surfing, or texting) during the meeting.
  • Poor organization: These meetings may seem to the participants to have no purpose or clear agenda; they may begin late and run overtime. The members may speak anytime without being recognized and emotional responses may be directed at a person who is or is not present. The room is too hot and members cannot see visual aids. The meeting consists of one digression after another.

Box 9-1 Common Reasons Meetings Fail

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