You probably dread attending meetings. Most of us associate terms like “fruitless”, “pointless waste of time” etc. when we’re asked to attend one. But meet we must – email and telephone calls simply don’t work as well in many situations. True, video conferencing works reasonably well, but ultimately there seems to be no substitute for an actual meeting. Call it what you will – protocol, convention, habit – but it is necessary, as the interpretation of body language and the harnessing of group energy is often required.

I read here  that 9 out of 10 people daydream in a meeting, the equivalent of more than 2 months in a year is spent in meetings and 49% of participants considered unfocused meetings & projects as the biggest workplace time waster and the primary reason for unproductive workdays. But interestingly, using a skilled facilitator increases the productivity of a project by 25%.

The last point about facilitation could be quite relevant. Where meetings are driven by strong individuals with clear views who are not open to contrary opinions – though they often claim to be – the effect is of a partially productive event, though fundamentally one-sided. People follow the path of least resistance and simply agree instead of getting into what appears a fruitless confrontation. In several cases, such a situation may well be necessary.

But effective management is generally a matter of consensus building. A facilitated meeting, on the other hand, where decisions are made by consensus, has a greater chance of being perceived as successful.

What does this mean? 

Simply this, that we are emotionally bound to the outcome of anything, when we are involved in the process. If the purpose or the proceedings of the meeting seems to be something we don’t see a personal stake in, then we tend to switch off or limit our involvement. The facilitator must obviously be a strong but neutral person who can read the signals of those attending and manages to elicit opinions, even if contrary, from everyone, and works out a solution that is seen as most acceptable, in a transparent and fair manner. We then need a plan for execution of whatever emerges from the meeting and that plan needs to be monitored.

This is obviously not always possible. But at the very least, large organization-wide initiatives might be best suited for facilitated meetings. The small additional cost of such a meeting must be weighed against the costs of partially successful or failed initiatives, indifferent employee buy-in and just plain cynicism