The Best Way To Improve Meeting Effectiveness You Haven't Tried Yet

by Steve Garcia, May 15th 2015  

The average enterprise worker spends 16% of their time in meetings. For senior leaders, it can be as high as 60%. This translates into 2.2 billion meetings each year in the U.S. alone! However, by some estimates, more than a third of these meetings are a waste of time, however. The resulting costs are staggering (see Table 1).

Table 1: Sample Costs of Unproductive Meetings

Typical Fortune-500 Operating Expense $5.5B
Average percentage of operating expense that is workforce related 70%
Average percentage of time employees spend in meetings 16%
Percentage of meetings considered unproductive 40%
Cost of unproductive meetings $264M

Moreover, the costs of unproductive meetings extend beyond a loss of employees’ time. New research suggests unproductive meetings sap employee engagement and increase the likelihood that employees will choose to leave.

Companies have sought to fix their meetings for years. To date, however, they’ve largely focused on improving meeting protocols (e.g. number of participants, agenda design, etc.) and increasing virtual collaboration using online tools such as GoTo Meeting. What’s missing is any systematic examination of the discussion that takes place during meetings. This is unfortunate as it’s the discussion between participants that ultimately determines the meeting’s success or failure. The perfect meeting agenda could fall from the sky on a stone tablet, but if participants don’t effectively communicate it won’t matter.

Interaction Analysis provides a new, innovative way to solve this problem. While it’s been around since the 1950s, Interaction Analysis has predominately been applied by academics studying small group dynamics. Only recently, with the development of applications such as SPOKES, has it become more widely used to improve meeting effectiveness and coach teams.

Interaction Analysis works by categorizing and then analyzing the discussion that takes place during a meeting. For example, using an intuitive interface, SPOKES allows a meeting observer to classify interactions into different categories. Using analytics based on the timing, source, and frequency of the interactions, SPOKES then analyzes the data to assess the meeting’s effectiveness (see Figure 1).

Specifically, SPOKES addresses questions such as:

Are all team members participating effectively?
Is the meeting’s tone supportive and positive, or negative and acrimonious?
Are participants actively listening or only advocating their own point of view?
Is adequate time spent facilitating the discussion?
How does the discussion compare to that from other meetings of the same size and type?

The data generated through Interaction Analysis pinpoints opportunities to improve meeting effectiveness. For example, I recently sat in on a cross-functional, C-level team’s monthly meeting. At the end of the three-hour session, I reviewed the Interaction Analysis data with the team, which was struck by the lack of virtually any disagreements between participants during the meeting. The data sparked the insight that the team wasn’t using its limited time effectively – team members were providing tactical updates versus discussing and debating strategic decisions. As a result of this awareness, the team completely revamped its overall approach to the monthly meeting.

This is not to say of course that meeting protocols and virtual meeting tools don’t play a role in meeting effectiveness, just that they’re not the full story. At the end of the day, people meet to share ideas, make decisions, brainstorm, etc. If the discussion doesn’t support the meeting’s objective, the meeting won’t be successful. Interaction Analysis is the first method to address this discussion.

If you’re interested in learning more about Interaction Analysis or joining the closed beta for our new SPOKES application, please vist the spokes website.

comments powered by Disqus


Changing how people work requires an understanding of the art and science of business. Forget left-brain/right brain... We think Whole Brain. Explore our insights.

Please subscribe if you like to know when we have our next blog entry.

Visit our other blogs:

Leadership Crescendo - Reflections and thoughts on leadership learned after thirty years of thinking about, experiencing, teaching and coaching executives for leadership effectiveness, written by Kaveh Naficy