People love to complain about meetings. They’re often pointless, and attendees feel like there is always more important work they can do in its place. 71% of senior managers believe that meetings are unproductive and inefficient, according to a survey from Harvard Business Review. Another study from the University of Nebraska at Omaha found that Americans waste $37 billion a year attending meetings.
But maybe part of the problem isn’t the meetings themselves, but the physical environment and the social norms we’ve constructed around them. For instance, most conference rooms today are anchored by a long table and rolling chairs for a dozen people. This setup doesn’t exactly invite people to get comfortable and creative. It signals the expectation to comply and follow along. The words and phrases we use to describe meetings also imply sedentary behavior and passivity. “I’d like to sit down with you and talk about this.” “We’re going to sit hereuntil we figure out a solution.” “Grab a seat and let’s get started.”
So if you’ve experimented with every agenda format imaginable and your meetings are still unproductive, consider rethinking your physical meeting space and layout. Here are some ideas that you might want to try.
1. DITCH THE STANDARD TABLE-AND-CHAIRS SETUP
Apple CEO Tim Cook said on the David Rubenstein show that 100% of employees would receive standing desks to help promote a healthier lifestyle. This policy is a significant first step, but this thinking needs to extend beyond the cubicle farm and into the conference room environment. Integrating choice and movement into every office space will help people see their options differently and break the long-ingrained habit of sitting. Research supports this. A 2014 study showsthat meetings where participants stood up generated a greater sense of excitement about the work than meetings where participants sat down.
2. DON’T STICK TO ONE LOCATION
When you use same space for every team gathering, you’ll notice that everyone tends to get into “default” meeting mode. Think about it like doing the same workout day in and day out. You might see progress at the beginning, but at some point, you plateau. Now, there are some meetings where being on autopilot isn’t necessarily a bad thing (like a routine update meeting), but when you need your team to solve hard problems, debate complex issues, or develop a fast, thoughtful solution to a client emergency, you need people to think outside the box and get off autopilot. I’d encourage that you either move your meetings elsewhere or establish a “war room” that carries the vibe of action and planning. Going outside might also help your team cultivate new ideas and perspective. When you need to have sensitive conversations, consider going offsite. You’ll be more likely to have an honest dialogue.