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October 10, 2008

Jean Thevelin:We must stop meeting like this…

The European president at operational improvement consultancy Proudfoot Consulting offers some clear pointers as to why so many meetings simply don’t work.

The ineffectiveness of meetings has been one of the most talked about business issues of the decade. Thousands of books have been written on the subject – just try typing ‘meetings effectiveness’ into Amazon.com – everyone can relate to it, and yet it is still eating heavily into company profits worldwide.

So for something we perceive as being so simple, why is it such a problem and what is going wrong? More worryingly, why are companies failing to address an issue that is costing them millions a year?

Well, from my experience, the problem lies in the veritable gulf between ‘best’ and actual practice. During 2007, we studied the effectiveness of 156 meetings during the 109 business reviews – which we conduct before all major client projects – in 91 different companies worldwide.

Over half of the meetings frequently overran, only one third recorded appropriate minutes and two thirds were followed up with inappropriate actions, due dates, assignments and evaluation. Most managers, disturbingly, understood the basic ground rules of meetings – such as agreeing a purpose and following up on actions – but only a handful put them into practice.

So how do companies change the current culture of ‘ineffective meetings’? Well, for a start, they need to re-educate managers about the importance of meetings, make sure they fully understand the basic cornerstones to a successful meeting and the damage ineffective meetings cause.

You would not believe the number of managers we see that, despite decades of business experience, have no idea when to call a meeting, with whom and for what purpose.

It sounds simple, yet the majority of meetings we observe occur arbitrarily, and in turn, leave people without a sense of purpose – a key reason behind a lack of subsequent action and a drop in productivity.

Jean Thevelin is the European president at Proudfoot Consulting, one of the world’s leading operational improvement consultancies.

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