Are your meetings overheated, deadlocked and, to all outward appearances, completely hopeless? The same is often said for the climate situation.
Actually, that’s not the only thing an ineffective meeting culture and the climate crisis have in common. The two issues have more similarities than you might think.
Luckily, the same similarities extend to the solution of both.
This article aims to inspire you with ways to improve the meeting culture in your organization based on lessons learned from one of the world’s biggest problems – global warming.
Here’s what a bad meeting culture and the climate crisis have in common:
1. Both slowly sneak up on you until suddenly you’re faced with very unpleasant realities!
If you turn back the clock just a few years, the climate crisis was barely on anyone’s radar, and definitely not top of mind like it is for many people today. However, it’s been a reality for a long time, quietly gathering momentum until the signs became too obvious to ignore. The fact is that the greenhouse effect and the rising temperatures have been known since the end of the 19th century.
While bad meeting cultures don’t have quite the same historical record, they too sneak up on you over time. Victorian-era meetings probably left much to be desired in terms of efficiency but, in general, the number and length of our meetings have increased remarkably during the last 50 years.
For the individual employee, the ever-expanding problem finally loomed into view in the organization when they started being invited to more and more unnecessary meetings, when people began walking into the meeting room several minutes late, and when concrete decision-making disappeared altogether.
It is the almost imperceptibly slow manifestation of both a polluted climate and a polluted meeting culture that is so dangerous. Granted, we are finally conscious of the consequences of global warming, but during the time it took for us to smell the smoke, the fire just grew bigger.
And what can we learn from that?
Well, we can learn to deal with the underlying causes before they get the chance to run amok. When you experience the meeting culture at your workplace to be wanting, speak up - talk to your boss or get help improving your meeting culture.
2. A bad meeting culture and the climate crisis are a joint responsibility
No need to point fingers 👉
Just as nobody can be held responsible for the rising temperatures, so nobody can be solely to blame for a bad meeting culture. Instead, the solution is to make the problem a joint responsibility. Whether as a citizen of the planet or a member of the organization, the only way to deal with the issue is by tackling it together.
“What’s the point? My efforts are a drop in the sea anyway.”
Your thoughts probably run along these lines when you consider whether your dinner should consist of venison steaks or lentil meatballs, or whether it’s worth it to pay double the price for the sustainable version. Researchers have found that it matters if everyone makes an effort.
Keep that in mind when relating to meeting culture. Even though it appears that your efforts make no difference, continue to lead the way and set a good example in establishing better meeting habits in your organization.
For instance, make sure to always have an agenda for the meetings you attend and say no to unnecessary meeting invitations. Here are ten other tips to better meetings.
That being said, the biggest responsibility, whether for meeting culture or climate, lies not upon the shoulders of the individual, but with the leading authorities.
That brings us to the next similarity between a bad meeting culture and the climate crisis.
3. The solution to both problems requires the top management to take action
Even though the UN’s Paris Agreement is probably not going to be completely fulfilled, there’s no doubt that it made the 195 signing state parties more focused on environmental policy.
Let’s pretend the UN is the board of directors and the state parties are senior and middle management in your organization.
To really change the meeting culture for the better, the board need to form objectives and a plan that gives management a strategy to base their actions upon. This way the plan can be fulfilled throughout the whole organization from top to bottom. The ambitions need to be measurable, specific and committing. A contractual plan like the Paris Agreement can serve as inspiration on how to approach the problem in management.
At FirstAgenda we tried the method ourselves when we were on a mission for changing our own meeting culture. To keep track of the development of the project, we used questionnaires and the Insights function on our meeting platform, which gathers all meeting data.
A change program like that is - surprise - not free of charge because, as you know, time is money.
That brings us to the fourth and final similarity between the solutions for both a bad meeting culture and an overheated climate.
4. There’s a need for investments to solve both problems – and the price is rising the longer you wait
Several NGOs and other authorities have investigated the actual cost of solving climate change. As simple meeting experts, we don’t dare speak of exact financial figures, but let’s just conclude that there are many digits!
Now, climate activists would argue that it might be even more costly to NOT make the investment in the environment.
The same goes for an ineffective meeting culture.
Sure, it’s not free to start up an internal change project, but the cost of countless ineffective meetings could easily exceed such a project. Unproductive meetings in the United States cost the country 37 billion dollars every year.
Curious to know how much they’re costing you? We made a calculator for you to figure out how much your organization spends on meetings based on the average salary.
The best investment strategy differs from organization to organization. Maybe you need help from external consultants like DecisionCaddy. Another possibility could be that you start your own internal project group to pull the project forward. You might also consider investing in technology to improve your meetings. Or maybe combine all three suggestions.
Another way to go is to start working on improving the way you make meeting agendas. There are a great number of ways to upgrade it. Like the Paris Agreement, this will give you a fixed framework for how to conduct better meetings.
No matter what kind of investment you find fitting, there’s no need for your organization to wait as long as the climate has…
What did we learn from the climate crisis about improving an ineffective meeting culture?
A lot, actually! Here’s a summary:
Look for symptoms showing that bad meeting habits are overtaking the culture and act early on them.
Let your colleagues know that everybody needs to take responsibility for changing the culture, but make sure the top management is on board from the beginning.
An investment in better meeting culture might seem expensive, but it could be even more costly to not take action.
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