Meetings are an essential but problematic management tool. The statistics on business meetings are sobering. A 2017 study from Harvard Business School shows that executives report they spend on average nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. What’s more, 54% say that the meetings are too frequent, poorly timed and badly run. And meetings have only risen during the Pandemic induced virtual meetings era, increasing 13% over pre-pandemic levels, according to more recent research from Harvard.
Hundreds of books have been written on the topic and a consulting industry was created as a result. Yet bad business meetings continue. What’s the answer? Eric Porres believes software can help.
He’s the founder and CEO of MeetingScience, a cloud-based application that helps organisations identify the true cost, value, and impact of meetings, and how to improve them. Porres says of his journey to creating MeetingScience, “The ‘aha’ moment for me came in in 2016 when I was with a company who had brought in a new CEO who was brought in to speed the growth of the company and introduced the practice of quarterly business reviews. They involved potentially a third or more of the company yet were not helping to move the company forward. It just made no sense and so I thought at the time: I know a little bit about human behaviour. I know a little bit about how feedback works. What if I could create an application that would help diagnose the problem and then provide recommendations on how to improve?”
He likens the MeetingScience application to sports fitness trackers that provide real-time performance data that promote continuous improvement. “When I ask business leaders how much time they burn in meetings, I typically get a long pause, as most have no idea. If you are spending a third of the time in meetings every week and spending 40-46 cents of every payroll dollar on meetings, isn’t that something you probably want to know something about it?”
Porres teamed with Dr. Joseph Allen, the director of the Center for Meeting Effectiveness at the University of Utah and the co-author of Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work (2021) to conduct research and develop a scientific approach to creating software to improve meeting efficiency and effectiveness. According to Porres, companies that embrace the MeetingScience platform experience higher meeting performance, lower meeting strain, higher productivity and lower employee turnover.
Bootstrapped by Porres in 2019 and with modest private investment from friends, MeetingScience is now gaining traction with customers like Logitech, CatalystSF, Digiday and TULA Skincare. The business is growing, though it is still early days for the company.
Porres falls back on his previous entrepreneurial endeavors and his experience, both as a CMO for fast-growth companies like Rocket Fuel, Sailthru and SundaySky as well as having co-founded ad agency Underscore Marketing and two other start-up attempts, plus his training for triathlons in dealing with the challenges of starting and growing a business. It’s all about perseverance and customer feedback, though he feels the company is making the right moves. “We’re progressing towards something that our customers set out to achieve. We’ve helped them diagnose the problem. We’re providing recommendations and our customers are implementing those recommendations and seeing it in that continuous feedback cycle, where there are more positive attributes associated with their meetings. There’s more recovery time built into their meeting schedules. Their percentage of agendas increased, and people feel enthusiastic about participating in collective decisions,” says Porres.
To further promote the business and emphasize its scientific founding, MeetingScience and The Center for Meeting Effectiveness recently released research that analysed data from thousands of meetings held over a 10-week period from November 2020 – January 2021 to examine whether they could discern differences in meeting behaviours and outcomes when mixed groups of male and female team members were present.
They narrowed the analysis to nearly 600 meetings that included performance data collected from calendar activity as well as anonymous post-meeting feedback and included at least three people and have both male and female participants. Their findings show that for meetings with men and women, when compared to men-only or women-only meetings:
-Meetings end on time 60% more often than meetings with just women alone. Compared to men-only meetings, there were no meaningful differences in end-time performance.
-Meetings last about 7% longer, but it’s not just because the teams are having more fun. It’s because important decisions are being made and the team doesn’t want to stop.
-Meetings tend to be more engaged. Active participation takes place in these meetings 14% more often when compared to female-only meetings, and 23% more often than male-only discussions.
-Meetings have a higher frequency of clear next steps. The data show that these meetings result in clear next steps — 39% more often than female-only meetings and a whopping 87% more often than male-only meetings.
– Meetings accomplish goals more frequently. Such meetings hit their goals 83% more often than men-only meetings and 16% more often than women-only meetings.
According to the research report, “A balance of male and female team members — far from being a source of conflict — helps generate synthesis and can help surface better ideas. Gender diversity in teams, then, can be a genuine source of strength. More diverse teams examine more ideas from more perspectives yet align on more clear next steps and accomplish their goals more frequently.”