Imagine this scene: The leader is passionately summarizing the company’s achievements over the past year and outlining plans for the next year on the stage. Although the meeting has been going on for several hours, you still feel like the leader hasn’t really highlighted any key points. Your colleagues around you are playing with their phones or dozing off, and occasionally the leader may call someone to share their thoughts and feelings. This suffocating scene is probably not unfamiliar. Every company or organization has a variety of meetings, such as morning meetings, evening meetings, regular meetings, learning sessions, summary meetings, and so on.
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The “virtual meeting” is the culmination of these various types of meetings. At the end of the year, all industries are facing the year-end wrap-up, and virtual meetings are held to plan the strategic focus and operational direction for the next year. In an ideal state, virtual meetings should involve a decision-making collective discussing the overall organizational strategy or specific tasks using a “brainstorming” approach. Participants can freely express their opinions and ideas from various perspectives, ultimately reaching a consensus and determining the development direction for the coming year.
However, in reality, it is often not the case. Mary, who has worked in a state-owned enterprise for more than a decade, has attended many virtual meetings, company conferences, and departmental meetings that collectively take up a day and a half of time.
Mary feels numb and sleepy every time she is in the meeting room. She doesn’t see any difference between the strategic meetings and other meetings, as they are still facilitated by someone and each business unit’s responsible person talks about their plans and intentions. There is no real brainstorming involved; it’s just one person speaking after another, celebrating victories and moving on to the next one. Then the leaders give speeches about the company’s future plans, followed by predetermined conclusions that don’t require consensus, only passive acceptance from the employees.
What bothers Mary the most is that the leaders occasionally ask other employees for strategic plans and profit-generating ideas, as if they genuinely believe that those suggestions would be effective.
For participation in the virtual meeting, department heads generally prepare their speeches in advance and also prepare responses to unexpected questions from leaders, in order to appear as if “the leaders are familiar with the business and staff under their management.” Moreover, “leaders who are capable of writing their own speeches are already very dedicated to their work.” In most cases, secretaries assist leaders in completing such tasks, performing what David Graeber described as “bullshit jobs” in his book “Bullshit Jobs.”
Mary can’t understand the purpose of such meetings. “Everyone’s work has become superficial. Discussions at workstations are not about the actual work; everyone is smooth-tongued. A simple task can take a whole day, and you don’t even know what they are doing on their screens. Leaders are the same. They go from office to office, chatting as soon as they enter, and leaving earlier than anyone else, but occasionally they try to motivate employees. Sometimes work feels like the dishes in a cafeteria. They look well-prepared and attractive, but when you pick them up, you realize it’s just vegetables wrapped in oil and bone fragments. Isn’t being practical already insufficient? Now we have to be virtual?”
As enterprises become more specialized and hierarchical, meetings have gradually become the standard default form of exchanging information and sharing perspectives to improve communication and collaboration efficiency. David Cotton, in his book “How to Run an Effective Meeting,” outlines the characteristics a meeting should possess, including having a clear goal, bringing together people with shared interests to achieve that goal, and ultimately creating change.
A well-managed and purposeful meeting can be highly motivating. Just as the best production lines can efficiently produce high-quality products, the best meetings can generate effective, efficient, and focused actions.
David Coon believes that “the purpose of a meeting is powerful when collective decision-making is necessary and appropriate.” Therefore, the premise of a meeting lies in the existence of problems and conflicts, and these conflicts involve the collective interests of the majority. The significance of holding a meeting is to facilitate full communication and exchange among all participants, in order to solve problems and reach consensus. However, more than 50% of meeting time is actually wasted.
Therefore, thorough preparation before a meeting is crucial. As the organizer, it is important to clearly define the specific purpose of the meeting: for decision-making meetings, it is necessary to identify who has the authority to make decisions; for training sessions, specific and achievable training objectives should be outlined. Having clear goals ensures that there are tangible results. Next, consider whose interests are involved. Not everyone is willing to participate in a meeting unless their personal interests are affected. Effective and efficient meetings require the involvement of the majority. Lastly, before the meeting, it is important to set a specific meeting time, establish discussion norms, and prepare an agenda. These measures help facilitate a more effective meeting.
When the voices of the majority are ignored, they may choose to disengage from the meeting, and perhaps even fall asleep. To aviod this situation , you can use a meeting tool, like Huddles.app, it has a section called feedback, that everyone can express themselves.
Author: Fiona Berton
Meeting Effectiveness Expert
Deeply accompanying the organizational evolution of agile transformation in enterprises.