One my favorite books is a healthy eating book called In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. It’s part nutrition guide and part history book on the evolution of industrial food production. The most compelling argument Pollan makes is that we are eating more and more calories while at the same time starving for nutrition. Essentially, he argues that industrial farming is zapping our food of nutrients and in our quest to replace those nutrients (e.g., iron), we are eating more and more of less and less nutritious food. The result is that we’re fat, but not satiated.

So why am I talking about this on a blog about team effectiveness? Because I think the exact same phenomenon is occurring in our meetings. Slowly, our meetings are becoming less and less effective. Your team will have its own reason. Maybe you have a harmony-seeking, collaboration obsessed culture and in your effort not to annoy or offend anyone, you talk ad nauseam but seldom come to a decision.

On the other hand, your team might be so polarized that you meet over and over again without coming any closer to agreement. Regardless of the dynamic, if your team is like most, you’re spending huge amounts of time in low value meetings. Meetings are the equivalent of empty calories.

As your meetings become less meaningful, you schedule more and more of them in the hope of finding what you’re after. But instead of discussion, debate, and decisions (the nourishing stuff), you consume more and more hours in sharing, sidestepping, and scrapping. You are having more and more meetings to get less and less done.

Consider the following:

What does your team need to accomplish in meetings?

What are the things that you can only do when you’re together?

What proportion of your time do you spend on those high value activities?

What is the “filler” that creeps into your meetings?

What unmet need is your team trying to fill by spending time on those things?

Warning Signs

In your next meeting, pay attention to how much time is spent on these low value activities

Providing updates on individual portfolios without the team adding any value

Discussing topics that have been discussed two or more times without progress or resolution

Listening to each member of the team say essentially the same thing in their own words

Deferring important but contentious issues or asking to “take it offline”

All of these are signs that are sucking the value out of your meetings. If your team is doing these things, it’s no surprise that you’re having more and more meetings in a vain attempt to get something done.  In my next post, I’ll share some ideas on how to make your meetings more nutritious for your team.

Further Reading

Running a Great Strategic Meeting

Are you Meeting at the Wrong Time?

A Better Meeting Structure

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