Life & Work

How to make your company meetings more productive


Executives now dedicate close to 23 hours each week to meetings, a staggering jump from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

In the tumultuous corporate jungle, speed and nimbleness carry the day. Unfortunately, though, a multitude of organisations find themselves entrapped in the vice of committee overkill.

This crippling phenomenon, marked by an insurmountable heap of meetings, diluted responsibility, and a troubling absence of progress, throttles entities while infiltrating societal norms.

It fosters a culture that shuns responsibility and delays decisive action.

A shocking revelation from the Harvard Business Review uncovers a disturbing rise in the frequency of meetings within organisations.

Executives now dedicate close to 23 hours each week to meetings, a staggering jump from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.

This unchecked meeting culture often cultivates 'analysis paralysis', a state where excessive deliberation drowns decision-making, engendering stagnation, and inefficiency.

The epicentre of the 'committee overkill' predicament finds the ghost of dispersed responsibility.

When a group or committee shares tasks, individual responsibility often dissolves into a fog of ambiguity. Glen Whyte’s research on the diffusion of responsibility theory, a now well-established psychological principle, uncovers that the presence of others diminishes someone’s propensity to assume responsibility.

Given such an unsettling reality, it leads to decreased accountability and underwhelming performance when mirrored in organisations.

Furthermore, committees often nurture a culture of consensus decision-making.

Despite its apparent democratic veneer, the committee approach can gag innovation and discourage risk-taking.

Taylor Dotson and Bhaskar Chakravorti posit that group decisions tend to embrace the status quo, a stance that can stymie progress and innovation.

The committee effect of evading decisions, sidestepping personal responsibility, and ducking risks carries significant societal repercussions.

If influential individuals in businesses and institutions persistently exhibit such behaviour, it teeters on the brink of becoming a societal norm.

This culture of passing the buck, instead of embracing decisive action and owning up to challenges, can infect public consciousness, impeding community initiatives and social progress.

So, how do we combat 'committee overkill' and reignite the flame of personal initiative and responsibility in companies, NGOs, and government ministries and, in turn, society?

First, organisations need to cultivate a culture of responsibility and ownership.

Such a shift starts with clearly defining roles and effectively assigning tasks, making sure every committee member comprehends their responsibilities.

Performance metrics that assess individual contributions and outcomes can bolster initiative-taking rather than just tallying meeting attendance.

Second, organisations must transform meetings into purposeful, goal-oriented endeavours.

A new study by Microsoft indicates that employees label meetings as unproductive and the frequency has dramatically increased since the pandemic.

By adopting focused meeting strategies, like setting clear agendas, capping meeting durations, and endorsing active participation, organisations can combat meeting fatigue and ensure productive time utilisation.

Third, entities also need to incubate an environment that fosters decisiveness and risk-taking which can encompass support for dissenting opinions and advocating diversity in decision-making.

Organisations that celebrate diverse perspectives have a better shot at breaking free from the chains of status quo bias, thus fostering innovation and progress.

Committee overkill symbolises a stifling organisational culture that inhibits progress and breeds a societal culture of responsibility evasion.

By advocating personal responsibility, goal-oriented meetings, and a culture that champions decisiveness and risk-taking, our organisations across Kenya can overcome the dearth of productivity trends from committees.

The resultant ripple effect will embolden society to embrace responsibility, hunt for solutions, and drive change.

Echoing a famous Kenyan proverb, "Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable", let us ensure that the bundle not only binds together but also acts decisively and purposefully for the common good.