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Meeting management: do’s and don’ts

Everyone knows how frustrating it can be to look at your calendar on Monday morning and be confronted with a week full of meetings. However: carefully planned and well-run meetings that follow a strict output orientation can be very useful management tools. For small businesses, departments or projects, meetings represent a reliable way of ensuring all participants are up to date with the necessary information. They actively integrate employees and also serve a social function. However, independent studies have shown that many meetings do not make meaningful use of participants' time. Independently conducted studies carried out in recent years have come to the conclusion that...

  • every second meeting could be shortened by a third without adversely impacting the outcome,
  • every third meeting is insufficiently prepared,
  • every third meeting ends without any concrete results,
  • every fourth meeting has no clear objective and
  • every fifth meeting is completely unnecessary.

The fact that such obvious shortcomings are rarely criticised has a lot to do with a company's leadership and communication culture, which permit only limited (or no) open criticism of superiors. This often leads to a lack of motivation among employees in such meetings. They play with their mobile phone, or demonstrate their disinterest through whispered conversations, doodling on handouts, or leaving the room to make phone calls that are apparently more important, etc. Other employees pretend to have other jobs to do in order to avoid participating in such meetings. This reduces efficiency even further, as extra effort is required to update those who were absent on the information they missed.

The possibilities offered by modern mobile communication can be used to reduce the inefficiency of physical meetings. The greatest benefit of mobile working environments is that they free participants from the constraints of location and, to a certain extent, time. One disadvantage of mobile communication is that you cannot address all the senses or get a good overall feel for the other person. These shortcomings are slowly being overcome as the technology continues to develop and people become more accustomed to this style of communication. The advances in the simultaneous transmission of images and audio that have been made in recent years are particularly exhilarating. The cost of such technologies has also dropped significantly, so now SMEs too can afford to host mobile conferences and meetings, which enable participants to dial in from home or other locations.

But despite the fact that meetings have become less dependent on location and easier to schedule, businesses should continue to carefully plan how they use their employees' time. Precisely because of the physical distance of some or all participants, it has become more important than ever to ensure such meetings are professionally prepared, conducted and followed-up. The checklist contains the most important things to consider when planning a meeting – regardless of whether it is physical or virtual.

About the authors:

Patrik Scherler holds a PhD in Economics from the University of St. Gallen and is a professor of economics at the School of Management and Law at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHaW) in Winterthur. He is also the owner of BENROX, which specialises in coaching, consulting and connecting, and is based in Meilen/Zurich. He supervises various business forums, working groups and advisory boards, and organises strategy and positioning workshops.

Claudia Frei holds a Bachelor of Business Administration and is a research assistant at the Center for Didactics and Methodology (ZiD) within the School of Management and Law a (ZHaW) in Winterthur. She also co-authored the book Irrtum Zeitmanagement, which was published in autumn this year.

Sources and further reading:

  • Jonas, R. (2004). Effiziente Protokolle und Berichte. Zielgerichtete Erstellung mit weniger Zeitaufwand. 5th Edition. Renningen: expert verlag.
  • Marchand, R. & Boëthius, St. (1998). Aktion gegen ineffiziente Meetings. Steinmaur: TimeSystem.
  • Müller, J. (2003). Sitzungen – Top oder Flop: Victor Hotz AG.
  • Payne, J. & Payne, S. (1997). Optimale Meetings in 7 Tagen. Landsberg/Lech: mvgVerlag.
  • Perslog GmbH (publisher.). (2004). Zeitmanagement-Profil. Remchingen: persolog GmbH, Publishing House For Management Systems.
  • Scherler, P. & Teta, A. (Published in autumn 2013). Irrtum Zeitmanagement. Zurich: Versus Verlag. 

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