In our previous blog we explained how you can fundamentally improve your meetings. Maybe you’ve already started implementing some of it. Usually, however, new insights into how something can be improved alone aren’t enough. Odds are that you have the feeling that there is something in your way. We often hear things like “There are too many forces at play to change things all by myself.” And: “If I find this hard to implement already, how are we ever going to improve our meeting processes company-wide?” But what are these forces? What is it exactly that’s stopping you? And why do you settle for it, even if it means that you end up with a shortage of time at the end of the day? In answering these questions, many people will refer to the prevailing company culture.
When we talk about the company culture, we usually talk about the things that prevent us from realizing change. It’s therefore no surprise that the term company culture has a negative connotation to it for a lot of people. We often make a big deal of it as well. Like it’s something elusive, something that’s impossible or very hard to change. As if it’s something refined and unique to every company. In reality, however, it turns out that’s usually not the case. If you look at a Western company’s top 5 causes of poor change management, odds are 95% that the following 3 causes are at play:
- It’s acceptable to revoke decisions and agreements, often with the excuse that the vision and the policy of the organization haven’t been clearly communicated or are disputable;
- People aren’t comfortable letting things go due to a lack of trust, which results in people not taking ownership and being afraid to make mistakes;
- We value personal goals and the goals of our department over company goals, which results in the (internal) customer not being central anymore.
The company culture is about why we do things the way we do them, and the assumptions and convictions that underpin them. But if we look at the causes of poor change management, we notice that they all have something to do with the way in which we collaborate.
Collaborating = meeting
And what if we look at the meeting? You’ve guessed it; the causes of inefficient and ineffective meetings are exactly the same. From our meeting surveys we’ve gathered that the causes here, too, are the continual questioning of the status quo, the fact that everyone gets to chip in on everything, that decisiveness is lost under a lack of trust and ownership, and that people aren’t thinking in terms of bottom-line company results. That’s no coincidence, because meetings constitute the beating heart of collaboration in every company. But if we look at the causes of poor collaboration, it’s often more about the adjustment whereby Team A gives input for something that team B carries on with. And it’s precisely that sort of collaboration that the meeting is meant for.
Changing the company culture? How not to do it…
Already 25 years ago, Schaffer and Thomson wrote in their article Successful Change Programs Begin with Results in Harvard Business Review, that companies tend to call in all kinds of change activities that sound good on paper, but which barely add to the bottom-line results of the company. It often concerns activities that are far removed from the primary process: employee engagement trainings, empowerment, interdisciplinary collaboration, performance measurements, or task groups that reflect on the desired company culture. The underlying idea is that if you just do enough of these activities, results with follow naturally. There is, however, sufficient evidence that it doesn’t work that way. Yes, a little bit of a buzz may arise, but soon everything is back to the old ways. The takeaway is that you can only achieve lasting change by doing. If you want a different end result, tinker directly with the primary process to achieve it.
Improve the meeting culture!
As we’ve shown, the meeting is an important process in collaboration, especially in those aspects of the company culture that cause friction. We’ve also seen that you can only change by doing. From there it’s not hard to realize that it pays to optimize the meeting process: it improves collaboration, you improve by doing, and the time saved and faster decision-making will benefit the (other) primary processes.
You can do this all by yourself, without the need for setting up a complex change program or reserving big budgets. This is because when improving a meeting, you are, at most, indirectly dependent of other (meeting)processes. And if a domino-effect happens to occur, then that’s a nice bonus.
In our previous blog we showed you how to improve the meeting itself. That’s why we will limit ourselves here to the success factors for improving the meeting company-wide:
- Start small, inside the company hierarchy, and don’t rush things;
- Define (per meeting process) specific goals, not just in terms of saving time, but also think about the impact of faster decision-making;
- Assign a “protected status” to the meeting you’re trying to improve, to prevent people from reverting to old habits;
- Ideally, start with the management. Employees often directly copy management behaviour.
In case the management has the same mind set, it pays to assess where inside the organization the most energy exists to join in: pull tends to work better than push, after all. True change comes from within.