How to play your part in effective meetings How to run effective meetings

We were once told that the organisation of the future would have fewer meetings, aided by advances in technology. It hasn’t happened. In 2014, the Harvard Business Review blog quoted research showing that 15% of a typical organisation’s collective time is spent in meetings — a percentage that has increased every year since 2008.

Our research, and our observation of meetings at high and low levels of business, suggests that most meetings are ineffective – indeed often counterproductive – because the participants lack the verbal behaviour skills to get the most out of them. But still they go on. And on.

So, if they are a necessary evil, how can they at least be more productive?

There are many kinds of meetings. Cross functional teams trying to agree on who gets what resources, with strong undercurrents of office politics flowing through them. Often tense meetings with stakeholders about recent performance. Board meetings, where strategy, tactics, personality, empire building, vision, finance, praise and blame all get mixed into a boiling pot and nothing is ever decided. Departmental or senior management meetings where people know time is short and it is vital to make good decisions, and act on them. One-to-one meetings where sometimes difficult issues have to be confronted head-on. Congenial, good-humoured meetings, where everyone enjoys themselves but nobody knows what was actually agreed.

Meetings can be shorter, less adversarial, clearer, less backward-looking and more effective if, and only if, certain important elements are present. To achieve effective meetings where they are larger, strong control and chairing skills are a pre-requisite, as are structure and purpose (usually encapsulated in a well-considered agenda). Above all, everyone needs to know whether the meeting is (in Huthwaite terms) a Filter or an Amplifier meeting, and to be able to adapt their behaviour accordingly. To do that, they need a well-developed pallet of verbal behavioural skill, based on Huthwaite’s research into what people do and say to one another in effective meetings.

From public company boardrooms, to local authority spending authorities; from children’s classrooms to the closed doors of international political mediation, we have helped create the kind of meetings that people no longer look forward to with dread, but instead look back on with satisfaction.