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Surprising research: meetings are productive

July 13, 2016

UnfinishedBusinessA couple of weeks ago I worked on some surprising findings from international research on meetings conducted by unified communications vendor ShoreTel. The online survey that ShoreTel used for the research is still live, if you want to try it out for yourself.

One of the people I spoke to while analysing the results was Bob Selden, an international management and training expert based in Australia. I’m currently reading Bob’s latest book that has just been published, Don’t: How using the right words will change your life, which is all about how to avoid the negativity in your life and your relationships – both in corporate and personal settings. For me, the biggest value in the book is how I can apply some of Bob’s concepts and approaches to content marketing and corporate writing. The use of positive language and the avoidance of the negative is a great way to create more effective case studies, press releases and other marketing content.

With unique insights gained over 30 years of experience in management and corporate training around the world, Bob made some great observations on ShoreTel’s survey data – which challenges a number of assumptions about the role that meetings play in the corporate world.

One of the biggest assumptions overturned by the findings is in people’s perceptions on the productivity of meetings. Only 11 percent of survey respondents found meetings a “waste of time”. Eighty eight percent of all respondents reported meetings were “productive” or “sort of productive”. Overall, Baby Boomers were the most likely to think meetings were productive (47 percent) as compared to Millennials at 34 percent. However, Baby Boomers and Millennials were virtually identical and the lowest in calling them a waste of time (9 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

Bob Selden - emailHere’s what Bob (pictured left) had to say about attitudes towards meetings and productivity:

“People have an inherent need to be involved, included and to know what’s going on.  Apart from the grapevine, meetings fill this need.”

He also explained some of the generational differences.

“Compared to the other generations surveyed, Millenials are likely to see meetings as less productive because of their formalised structure and the pace of meetings as ‘too slow’. Generation X’ers, on the other hand, were born in the era where meetings were seen as the basis of gaining employee involvement and have grown up with them, hence the ShoreTel research shows us that they spend more time in their ‘comfort zone’.” (The results showed that Generation X’ers were more likely than the other generations to spend more time in weekly meetings.)

Bob also had some keen observations on cultural differences uncovered by ShoreTel’s research.

“Asian meetings are top-down, information giving with little or no involvement of the team/group in decision making – hence their short time span – everyone listens to the leader.  European meetings are more consensus-oriented with the aim of involving all to reach a decision shared by all; hence they take longer.  Australian meetings are longer because there is more talking and questioning of decisions.  They may aim for consensus (which takes longer) but rarely achieve it – decisions are often made outside of the meeting.”

“North American meetings have a greater emphasis on hearing the “wisdom” from people with status (leaders and participants) hence the need to be seen and heard by the “right” people rather than to be productive.  This explains the difference between European meetings (52 per cent seen as productive) versus North American (40 percent seen as productive).”

“There’s also a further point of difference in the type of meeting that is run in different regions. European and Australia meetings for example are more likely to be “problem solving” type meetings whereas Asian and North American meetings are more often “information sharing” making the former seem far more productive.”

I haven’t had anywhere near Bob’s international corporate experience, but I have noticed significant differences between  meetings conducted in Australia and in North America. Australian meetings tend to get to the subject matter quickly, and conclude the meeting as soon as a resolution is made or the next steps are established. In US-led meetings, I find there is often the push to use up all the time scheduled for the meeting, even if a resolution has already been achieved. The meeting organiser usually makes sure that everyone in the meeting has the opportunity to talk, while in Australian meetings there isn’t that same need. That might go some way to explaining why North American respondents recorded the lowest percentage in finding meetings to be productive.

To find out more, there was an ANZ press release issued on the findings and ShoreTel has also published an e-book that discusses the ten common misconceptions about meetings.

Pictured above: just another opportunity for me to use one of the cheesy stock photos released to promote the movie “Unfinished Business” last year.

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