The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be destroyed, yet most executives can point to meetings on their calendars that would seem to refute that rule. Meetings might look and feel a bit different these days—“you’re on mute!”—but they are still the primary forum for executives, live or virtually, to share important information, collaborate, gather input, monitor results, and make decisions.
When working well, meetings can be a highly efficient and effective forum for robust discussion and debate, an opportunity for executives to align on future action, commit to it, and hold one another accountable. Taken together they build an integrated operating rhythm that becomes the heartbeat of the organisation.
Executives spend a lot of time in meetings, and far more goes into planning and preparing for them. On average, senior executives devote more than two days every week to meetings of three or more colleagues, and 15 percent of an organisation’s collective time is spent in meetings, Bain research has found. When our colleagues looked into the ripple effect of a single regular senior review meeting, they found that something in the order of 300,000 additional hours were put into its planning and preparation over the course of the year, the equivalent of roughly 150 full-time employees. Research has found a connection between meeting behaviour and market share, and between innovation and employment stability. It has also found that workers’ feelings about meetings correlate with general job satisfaction.
When executives talk about “fixing meetings,” they often mean meeting hygiene—things such as the agenda, who participates, their roles, meeting norms, and materials. All should fit the focus and goals of the meeting, and simple changes can make a big difference.
Getting the most out of executive forums goes beyond improving hygiene, however. It requires distinguishing between two critical parts of the executive portfolio: operations (or running the business) and innovation (or changing the business).