Meetings: who does them best, men or women?

London, 18th November 2010 - Apparently 25 million meetings take place in corporate America every day. So I guess if we Brits have a similar meeting culture, we do about five million meetings a day. Oh lordy. Doesn’t it make you shudder?
In a separate report, the New York Times stated that men spend twice as much time as women in meetings. Is that because we chaps like them more – hard to believe, or is it simply because women manage their time more efficiently? Answers on a postcard please.
When was the last time you were able to say, honestly, that you’ve been to a great meeting? It’s certainly one of the things that turned me off big company life. Every now and then, though, we take part in a really good, really interesting, useful meeting. What’s the secret, and how can we reduce the number of time-wasting unproductive meetings we have to endure?
The reasons meeting go wrong are many and varied, including:
·         People aren’t prepared for the meeting
·         People are distracted. Usually by their Blackberry
·         The meeting doesn’t start or finish on time
·         The meeting isn’t led properly
·         The meeting turns into a rant-fest
·         The meeting meanders
·         The meeting breaks into a series of mini meetings
The person occupying the chair is the most important player in a meeting. Few people think about how they chair meetings, and I think we’d all be a lot more productive and successful if we spent a little more time understanding the role.
If the chair doesn’t try and make the meeting worthwhile, surprise, surprise, it probably won’t be worthwhile. Good meetings do require some planning too:
·         What’s the reason for the meeting?
·         Are the objectives of the meeting clearly understood by all participants?
·         What research do participants need to have undertaken to be prepared?
·         What outcomes are desired from the meeting?
A good chairperson needs plenty of skills. He or she needs to know how to include everyone, but sensitively ensure that one or two people don’t over dominate. The chair needs to be a good timekeeper, and needs to know when to let conversation flow, and when to move to a decision. The chair also needs to ensure there is a mechanism for noting decisions and ensuring they are implemented. Otherwise there’s little point having the meeting.
People work an average of 45 hours a week according to a Microsoft survey I found recently. Those same people consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive. Poor meetings aren’t responsible for all those wasted hours, but it’s an area where I’m convinced communications can be improved pretty darn quickly.