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A Better Meeting Experience: Huge Opportunity for ANY Company

7th Mar 2016
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boring meetings

What makes a great meeting experience well, great?

I’d venture to guess this has been a problem since companies have existed. I know it’s been an issue for companies of scale for decades, and is a challenge virtually every company has faced at one time or another. And that is the effectiveness and enjoyability (or lack thereof) of meetings for and between employees, partners and customers.

We’ve been asked to assess and improve the “meeting experience” for several organizations, from global to national, and discovered a number of things common to a great meeting experience. A few of them include:

Ease of getting collaboration technology up and running;

Preparation and organization in advance of meeting;

Speed of decision-making;

Efficient time management;

Post-meeting follow ups (conversations and correspondence).

Clearly this is a short list, and things do change in importance based on role and geography, but the bottom line is that those things which make the meeting experience enjoyable and effective are also those same things that can make meetings NOT enjoyable and effective.

In other words, the degree to which getting technology up-and-running is easy or hard. Or how well post-meeting collaboration keeps people involved and informed, and drives a common understanding of what was accomplished.

What IS a meeting? Hint: Stop thinking a set time or place.

The ramifications of these issues also bend the traditional definition of what a meeting is. According to Webster’s a meeting is “a gathering of people for a particular purpose (such as to talk about business).”

In business, this has typically meant that there’s a time you start, and a time you stop. But that definition doesn’t match the way people work. In reality, meetings are fluid and often expand well beyond the allotted span of minutes clocked in your calendar.

For example, smaller meetings or conversations sometimes occur before the “official” meeting begins. And often, meetings don’t actually resolve the issue at hand – work continues apace as progress is made well beyond the allotted time. Original meeting participants can be unclear if objectives were met, or what happened as a result.

Last week, I had the privilege of being invited to Cisco’s Collaboration Summit 2015 here in San Francisco where we saw what may well be the future of meetings. At the event, Cisco unveiled several cool products and features for Spark, all related to delivering a single collaboration experience that spans locations, channels and time.

Calls can become meetings; meetings can become chat rooms; content is easily shared, and video links follow you and your device if you’re late or need to leave early. All exploiting ways that technology can be harnessed across time zones, locations and devices to better address how people actually work.

Importantly, Spark is also addressing many of the most common meeting pain points we identify as we consult with organizations trying to improve meeting efficiency and experience. Yes, the technology stuff. But many of communication- and collaboration-related issues as well.

The value of a better meeting experience is staggering.

The benefits of better meetings are extraordinarily easy to quantify. According to an article in Inc., 15 percent of an average organizations collective time is spent in meetings – a percentage that has increased every year since 2008. Middle management spends about a third of their time in meetings; upper management about half. Yet execs consider 67 percent of meetings to be failures. One of our clients manages meeting rooms for 100,000 employees around the globe; another has over 50,000 employees.

Consider if companies like these were to increase efficiency by just a few points; the return on a better meeting experience is staggering. Of course, this is such a huge opportunity that Cisco – while apparently ahead of the curve for the moment – won’t be alone for long. Startups like Slack and BlueJeans are part-way down the road already. Microsoft and others won’t be far behind.

At the same time, no matter how effective meeting and collaboration technology becomes, “meeting culture” needs to change with it to drive optimal meeting experiences. Among other things, this means learning to do things like focus on decisions (vs. discussions) and the preparation of a set agenda based on solving issues of merit.

Of course, a big part of the most common meeting-related issues has typically been related to pre-and post-meeting behavior and connectivity – and collaboration technology like this is a great way to ensure that conversations and decision making remain transparent, and efficiency and buy-in remain high.

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