So this episode is a direct continuation of the previous episode. Last time I talked about miscommunication, both in general and as it relates to one-on-one meetings between you and your team members. This time, I’ll continue talking about miscommunication a little bit, but I’m shifting the lens to cover discussions within groups. Or in this case, meetings.
As a quick recap of the last episode, I defined miscommunication as the failure to adequately communicate, to adequately transfer information. Likewise, in our research we found that during one-on-one performance conversations, the top three sources of miscommunication were (1) not feeling that what employees had to say would be heard or listened to by their manager, (2) clear developmental goals not being set, and (3) employees and their managers having different priorities.
So that’s a high-level summary to get us going on the current topic: meetings. Meetings are a necessary evil. They’re necessary because they allow for in-the-moment communication, updates, tracking, course correction, and all the other factors that keep businesses going. They’re evil, or at least not the best, because they’re generally a huge waste of time. Some analyses have estimated that individual contributors, or non-managers, attend an average of 8 meetings per week, and managers attend 12 a week. With most of those meetings being an hour long, that’s roughly 32 hours on average for individual contributors and 48 hours for managers spent in meetings every month. If you’re a manager, then on average you’re spending more than a standard work week every month just in meetings.
And the fun doesn’t stop there. Other studies have suggested that about 30 hours are wasted in meetings per employee every month, averaged across individual contributors, managers, executives, etc. All of those hours are essentially unproductive. Let’s say you have 7 team members in an hour-long meeting. That’s not a one-hour investment – that’s an 8-hour investment when you factor in you and your team. Now multiply that by millions across the United States. Estimates suggest that this high amount of useless meetings costs the United States a total of 30-40 billion dollars a year in lost productivity. That is a lot of money wasted on something that plays such a large role in most organizations.
Now I’m not suggesting that all meetings have to be 100% productive. Sometimes it’s nice to just slow down, socialize, zone out, or just get a break from your day-to-day responsibilities. So there is value in meetings beyond the standard communication, updates, and all that. But we can do better. For example, does every meeting you’re in have to be in 30-minute blocks, generally for an hour? No – we’re just programmed that way because our technology of email and calendars have defaulted to 30-minute increments, so the technology shapes our behavior. And it’s easier to remember start times at the top or middle of the hour rather than something like 10:10, 10:15, and so on.
In this episode I wanted to offer ways to enhance meetings, not only from a communication perspective but also for efficiency. The first topic I’ll cover is about the mystery of how to view meetings. The second topic involves discussing the mystery of how to get the most out of your team meetings. And finally, the third topic is based on our research, and I’ll be covering the mishap of miscommunication during meetings.
This section is more about how to mentally approach meetings. With that in mind...
In our research that I reviewed in the previous episode, we asked employees a variety of questions about workplace communication, especially miscommunication. The survey question I want to focus on here is as follows: When you have meetings within your team, what tends to be the most frequent source of miscommunication?
Think about that for second. In the last episode I posed a similar question about one-on-ones with you and your team members. Now think about your team as a whole – when you meet with them, what tends to cause miscommunication?
Alright, so now that you’ve thought about that a bit, there are two trends from our data. First, about one-third of survey-takers indicated that the most frequent source of miscommunication in meetings is “Individuals interpreting messages and goals differently.” Second, a little under one-third indicated time-related reasons, including “Too much time being spent on unimportant topics,” as well as “not enough time allotted for thoughtful questions or discussion.” How do those reasons stack up against what you believe is the most common causes of miscommunication in team meetings?
The first trend of individuals interpreting messages or goals differently aligns strongly with what I discussed in episode 7, about conflict often being caused by differences in goals, assumptions, or personalities. So this result further underscores the need to ensure that when a difference of interpretation occurs, it needs to be clarified immediately. Or at least, when these misinterpretations are verbalized and known. It’d be good practice for you, and then to coach your team about, immediate clarification. If you say something that receives puzzled looks or someone misinterprets what you said, take a moment to back up and refine what you said. And try to create a team culture in which others feel comfortable doing that as well, to help minimize miscommunication and conflict.
The second trend relates to time, of too much time being spent on unimportant topics and not enough time allotted for thoughtful questions or discussion. But if we look a bit deeper, those results are about time management, or meeting management. That’s where you come in. Like I discussed in the previous section, create an agenda for every team meeting and stick to it. Assign someone to be a timekeeper on topics, someone who doesn’t mind interrupting others or butting in to say “Time’s up, next topic.” Or you could do that too with a timer on your phone or computer.
If someone gets off-track for too long, interrupt them to let others speak or get the meeting back on track. Remember, most meetings are pointless or full of wasted time, and people, including yourself, who go off on tangents, rants, or ramblings just make people despise meetings all the more. Be intentional about what you discuss in meetings and for how long, setting the tone for how much leeway you give or allow for off-topic discussion and the like.
What this second trend wraps up into is that employees believe meeting mis-management is a frequent source of team miscommunication. When time for thoughtful questions and discussions is non-existent or squeezed out by unimportant or irrelevant topics, this doesn’t allow clarification and understanding to take root. Creating time for understanding and thoughtful discussion will help reduce miscommunication, which is directly related to the first trend about different interpretations of messages and goals.
The main takeaway from this third section is that team meetings, and really most meetings, need to stay on track and have time for clarification. This may seem conflicting with the first section of this episode where I suggested that you may want to cut down on meeting time. However, it’s not about the amount of time in a meeting, it’s about the quality of time usage in a meeting.
As a recap of this episode, I discussed some ways to think about and frame meetings, as well as common sources of miscommunication. Overall it’s about being intentional. Meetings shouldn’t be your go-to form of communication, especially when an entire team is involved. Be intentional about having meetings, what they’re about, who’s invited, and how much time you use. Likewise, be intentional about creating agendas and sticking to them, taking meeting notes, having a timekeeper, following up with individuals afterward, staying on-topic, and making time for clarification and understanding .
I mentioned this in the last episode, but it’s worth noting again: if you’re interested in learning more about our miscommunication research, check out our e-book titled The State of Miscommunication. It covers other topics like the role of technology in miscommunication, creating a voice-empowered culture, and more.
And that’s it for this episode! Join me next time on Manager Mysteries & Mishaps, where I’ll discuss new hires and onboarding.