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Organizational meetings: fostering an efficient dialogue between executives and employees

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The average senior manager spends up to 23 hours per week preparing, participating or following up on meetings. And still, an estimated 85% of executives are dissatisfied with the efficiency and effectiveness of organizational meetings, according to Steven G. Rogelberg. Employees spend approximately 6 hours a week attending meetings which they believe are a complete waste of time.

There is obviously a top-down, bottom-up disruption when it comes to understanding the functionality of a meeting. And still, how else are we supposed to communicate vision and purpose, objectives and initiatives, without congregating? Well, there are the self-evident alternatives such as Instant Messaging.

The number of simultaneous conversations carried by means of Instant Messaging are limited only by the user’s capacity of processing information. Virtual conferences or teleconferences are another way of collaborative socializing without commuting to a meeting room.

Then we have wikipedias, which are web applications that provide an ideal environment for distributing work-related tasks and managing documents. They keep track of changes and assign responsibles for each editing activity.

Lastly, Project Management applications such as “Wrike” or “Basecamp” enable file sharing, information exchange and task assigning.

So as we can see, fostering dialogue is not an easy proceeding, let alone converting dialogue into effective communication. As time consuming as they might be, as rigid and outdated, meetings are the only means of face-to face communication. They unequivocally provide the possibility to both assess body language and hear tone of voice, while additionally detecting behavioral signals and verbal cues that might be crucial in understanding the perspectives of others.

There are, indeed, a number of visionaries who indulge the dynamics of information technology, but is it always because of its efficiency and timeliness? Or is it because they just dislike being accountable for their work in a face to face encounter with the boss?

Of course, this may just end up in a pointless discussion about communication skills, but the truth is that both managers and employees are looking for ways to express themselves optimally. Besides their more formal purpose, meetings also have a networking and even a team-building purpose for employees.

meetings

Granting meetings their indisputable role in nurturing team cohesiveness, we should look at improving the quality of organizational meetings, rather than their total elimination. A productive and efficient meeting should be the result of:

  • A disciplined distribution of meeting agenda: use of e-mail with follow-up requirements helps share information about the meeting in a timely manner
  • An optimal use of computer and web based technologies: ensure meeting access availability to all participants, even those who might need to contribute to the meeting from a long distance
  • A steady agenda tracking: maintain focus on the key topics of the agenda by minimizing distractions
  • Data consistency: ensure that the decision-making process is based on real data and accurate documentation
  • Creativity and innovation encouragement for an overall contribution
  • An unambiguous review: provide everyone with a summary of the meeting by centralizing minutes within an accessible document made available to all interested parties

Typically, meetings should involve four to eight participants (except for one-to-one meetings, which gather as few as two participants). Preferably, a meeting should last from 30 to 60 minutes, and a transcription of meeting highlights should be undertaken for future reference.

Information technology tools should not be disregarded, on the contrary, they should contribute to the enhancement of traditional meetings. Information technology supported meetings share the face-to-face meeting’s propensity for group cohesion. When the group members are physically dispersed, web conferences are more than useful in facilitating an equal and coherent distribution of information.

Although Instant Messaging (IM) is an integrated part of the modern organizational fabric, its use during meetings may be disrupting. In their book “Handbook of Group Decision and Negotiation”, Kilgour Marc and Eden Colin undergo a study on the use of IM during organizational meetings. They have identified an “invisible whispering”, translated by an array of backstage conversations that were interfering with the meeting agenda. The purpose of the backend IM discussions were identified as follows:

  • Directing the meeting: conversations intended to influence the content and process of the meeting;
  • Providing focal support: conversations that helped the team accomplish its work and minimize process losses that occurred due to a lack of preparation, missing information or gaps in communication;
  • Providing social support: conversations that encouraged non-contributing members of the group to participate in the meeting;
  • Seeking clarification: conversations seeking to clarify aspects that were not understood or omitted;
  • Participating in a parallel subgroup meeting;
  • Managing extra-meeting activities.

An experiment focusing on decision-making processes organized separate 10-20 minutes meetings for groups that either stood up or sat down during the meeting. The result was that the groups standing up took 34% less time to make decisions, and there were no outstanding differences in decision quality between the two group types.

So what drives an efficient meeting? Is it good pre-meeting preparation, standing up during meetings or the management of invisible whispering? Theory aside, practice may just provide us with an answer to an efficient dialogue between employees and executives.

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