Four key characteristics of meetings
In my last article, I touched on how the internet of things can power better meetings. In order to understand how IoT can help or define our work, it’s important to understand what makes a meeting bad or unproductive in the first place. There are four characteristics that are thought to determine a meeting’s success (or failure). In no particular order they are: physical, procedural, temporal and attendees.
Physical characteristics relate to aspects of the meeting setting and environment, such as seating arrangement, provision of refreshments and the appropriateness of the space, temperature and lighting.
For example, if the room is designed for six people but eight people attend the meeting, lack of seating or overcrowded work space creates a stressful environment and affects the quality of collaboration, information retention and attentiveness. Similarly, meeting participants’ concentration and focus are inhibited if the room is too cold or too hot.
Poor lighting also impedes productivity. For instance, glare from sunlight on the room display can make it difficult to see content or remote participants. Dim lighting can cause people to become drowsy and disengage from the conversation.
Often the technology in the room is difficult to use and therefore may go unused, making it difficult — if not impossible — to share content or communicate fully. Another possibility is that the technology in the room doesn’t support or facilitate the type of meeting scheduled or the content presented. For example, if someone has a presentation on a tablet but the room doesn’t support wireless presentation, or if the laptop has an HDMI or DisplayPort connector but the room only has a VGA cable, the meeting is doomed to fail before it even begins.
It’s not only about people — it’s about how technology is able to replicate the experience for those not in the room. It’s important that these folks aren’t left out.
Procedural characteristics include the use of agendas and ground rules. Studies have shown that most of the problems in meetings occur in the pre-meeting phase. Thus, preparation plays an important role in conducting meetings effectively. Participants perceive a higher meeting quality when they have prior access to a formal agenda, and practitioners suggest including the presenter’s name, the expected action and time estimate for each agenda item. Moreover, the identification of the goals behind each agenda item provides both the meeting leader and the attendees with an orientation during the meeting. Rogelberg, Shanock and Scott (2012) found that attendees enjoy meetings more when they have clear goals and relevant information is shared.
Temporal characteristics describe how the meeting time is used, the meeting length and whether the meeting started and ended promptly. Unfortunately, 37% of all meetings start late and 68% of workers find late meetings unacceptable. Beyond the frustration people feel, which inhibits productivity, late start times alone cost organizations about $5.3 billion every year.
To relate this extraordinary number to individual businesses, 15% or more of labor costs is associated with wasted time either searching for a place to meet, locating the meeting place or starting the meeting. For example, once everyone is gathered and ready to meet, it takes an average of 10 minutes to connect personal devices for a presentation or to start a video conference. Those minutes propagated across every meeting throughout an organization every day costs millions annually, not to mention the anxiety and frustration employees experience, which leads to another 20 or 30 minutes of cognitive dissonance (research indicates that it takes that long for the brain to recover from stress and regain full intellectual capacity).
Attendee characteristics include the presence of a facilitator or a leader and the number of attendees. Niederman and Volkema (1999) emphasized the importance of the leader in controlling the flow of information, assisting in the decision-making process and helping attendees reach the meeting goal. As the number of attendees increases, the participation per attendee decreases and it becomes even more important that somebody is performing the role of a meeting facilitator.
Meetings are integral to workflow in businesses and educational institutions. They cannot, and probably should not, be eliminated or avoided. In fact, 92% of workers value meetings as providing an opportunity to contribute to organizational success. Therefore, meetings must be made more efficient and productive.
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