By Karen Voloshin and Julie Winkle Giulioni, DesignArounds

The people have spoken. More than 200 of us participated in a survey that paints a vivid picture of the state of meetings in organizations today. We spend time on meeting topics that matter…a lot of time, and often with people we can’t even see. We hate tangents and starting late. We don’t like wasting our time in meetings without clear outcomes or some specific reason for us being there. Many of us feel that our time in meetings isn’t as well spent as it could be. And we’re pretty clueless when it comes to knowing what’s supposed to happen when meetings are over. Just about half the time we feel we haven’t had the chance to bring our best thinking to the table. The whole meeting mess seems to be getting messier.

You’d think we’d have this meeting thing figured out.  It’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe meetings are such a longstanding part of organizational life that practices get handed down like some of the family holiday rituals we dread … that’s just the way things are done. Just wait it out till next year.   Perhaps we look at meetings as part of the hard organizational structure like a bearing wall or concrete foundation - impenetrable without major reconstruction. Not so. These meeting messes are just like coffee spills on the table, dust on the blinds, a crushed cookie on the carpet - easily cleaned with the right supplies. Here are some things to think about and most importantly do to clean up the meeting mess in your organization.


meet where it matters most
Consider Gary. He had an idea. He had done his homework and even ran a few under the radar experiments. He was convinced that a few modifications and some fresh positioning would make the MJ1230 a hit with a whole new set of customers.  He was actually looking forward to the next team status meeting where he would have the opportunity to reveal his eureka moment.

The meeting started with the same tired routine…a report by each person reprising the events of the past two weeks. Gary felt his energy start to flag as he tuned in and out to bits and pieces of information that might impact him. He scanned his co-worker’s faces and their glazed over eyes. He snapped to attention and suddenly felt his adrenaline surge. It was almost his turn. As Gary began to relate his new thinking, the meeting facilitator for the week (he and his co-workers rotate responsibility) not so graciously refocused him to the expected format. He dutifully responded, not wanting to look like a poor team player.  Gary left the meeting frustrated and angry and decided he was better off keeping the idea to himself for a while. It was just too much work to get heard.

85% of survey respondents rated status/update meetings as the type they attend most often. Idea generation came in at 43% and strategy development at 36%. Sure, updating is important, but in this age of hyper-technology growth, aren’t there better, more efficient ways to keep each other informed?

We say we want more creativity, more innovation. We say our futures are riding on it. Start a meeting content shift. Create meeting space dedicated to curious and forward thinking dialogue, or at the very least invite it in when it shows up unexpectedly.



This article reflects input from respondents from a variety of organizations: manufacturing, financial services, health care, non-profit, consumer services, energy and utilities, business services, spanning multiple organizational levels.

63% report that the topics addressed during meetings are critical to achieving business results often or frequently

66% of respondents indicate that their time is well spent rarely or only sometimes during meetings


Where the Time Goes

77% report spending 25% or more of their time in meetings with 42% spending 50% or more

69% report spending 25% or more of their time in meetings with remote participants with 40% spending 50% or more




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