Smarter meetings: Is my meeting learning?

Eleven million meetings take place each day in the U.S. Half of these have no agenda, and 61% of professionals think they are ineffective. So, could meetings be made smarter?

Thirty-seven percent of respondents recently told McKinsey that the decisions made during meetings were both high-quality and timely. That’s reassuring, except that this also means 63 percent of people don’t think that’s the case. How can senior management get better decisions more quickly from the meetings they attend or lead?

We think technology can help.

Do you need a meeting?

Or is it possible to make decisions collaboratively using videoconferencing software? How can these virtual meetings become more effective?

One way might be to keep them on topic. After all, most meetings happen for a reason, so using smart to-do tools like Trello, Microsoft Planner or Wrike, participants flag topics they wish to cover before the meeting takes place. Collaborative tools mean everyone knows what’s going to be discussed and can prepare themselves by bringing constructive thought to the meeting, rather than be caught by unexpected topics. Having a permanent record of a meeting agenda and post-meeting actions can be better than picking up on an email trail.

Clarity of purpose means roles and responsibilities can be more effectively defined, both during and after the session. McKinsey notes the importance of the latter. “One healthcare executive told us he sat through the same 90-minute proposal three times on separate committees because no one knew who was authorized to approve the decision,” they wrote.

Why is everyone there?

McKinsey estimates that every Fortune 500 firm could be squandering over half a million hours of management time on ineffective meetings. That’s a lot of time for little result.

We’ve all sat in meetings and wondered why we were there, so when planning a meeting, it makes sense to decide who needs to be there. Must everyone attend in person? Traveling between meetings takes time, which may be better spent elsewhere.

Remote collaboration systems, such as messaging, videoconferencing, screen sharing and remote dial-ins can be of help. Not only do they enable people to work together, they also make it possible to optimize the time spent in meetings. Participants can contribute to their topic and then leave the meeting to work on something else, saving your business time and money.

Collaboration systems: consumer, in-house or cloud?

Deloitte claims Cisco generated over a billion dollars in business benefits when it adopted Web 2.0 collaboration solutions. Traditional audio conferencing tools are flexible tools for collaboration, in part because you can access them using any system that lets you dial a number, from Skype to desk phones.

Cost is a challenge for any enterprise, and controlling it is prompting many businesses to use cloud-based systems such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams. This lets enterprises enable accounts as required while maintaining tight control over cost.

An enterprise seeking technology to optimize meetings should consider the following:

  • What is our existing system? What works well, what doesn’t, and how is this technology used?
  • How do we want to use technology in our meetings?
  • What is the balance between audio, video, mobile devices and traditional landlines?
  • Who attends our meetings? Staff, external partners or both?

Armed with answers to these questions, you should be able to determine what kind of meeting architecture you require: in-house, external or cloud based. Cloud is a more flexible solution, particularly if you want to liaise with external entities, as you can enable and disable their access on an ad hoc basis.

Meetings are becoming digital

As real-time in-meeting events become digitized, meetings are beginning to generate their own data. This extends beyond where a meeting takes place, how long it lasted and who was there to events, promises, decisions and future deadlines.

Chatbots and data detectors (both within digital meeting environments and also using voice-based tools, such as Otter.ai or Voicera) can help fulfill administrative tasks, such as setting calendar dates, meeting dates and delivery deadlines and creating a digital trail of reminders.

In the future, meeting technologies will begin to apply robotic process automation (RPA) and workplace analytics. With artificial intelligence (AI) tools, you won’t just know who was there and what decisions were made, you will also be able to identify conscious and unconscious management and decision-making structures, track results and optimize data sharing.

The crux of the problem

McKinsey argues that most meetings can be categorized as one of the following:

  • Big-bet (such as acquisitions)
  • Cross-cutting (such as price setting)
  • Delegated (low-risk, team-based decisions)
  • Ad hoc (response to events)

It’s important to distinguish between types of meeting as the technology requirements of each will differ – workplace analytics may help release cost savings while automated calendaring and reminder tools may boost the effectiveness of delegated meetings.

The technology deployed to make meetings more productive should also be dependent on the context and significance of that meeting. Transformative as they are, digital tools can only augment existing practices, not replace them. Someone somewhere must still spend time figuring out who needs to be at a meeting, what it is about and how decisions will be reached.

Orange Business Services has several solutions to help business collaboration thrive. Take a look at our Business Together as a Service solution and read about embedding collaboration into business workflows.

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.