In the U.S., we participate in 25 million meetings a day (and counting). And CEOs are spending more than one-third of their time in meetings, with at least half of those hours considered wasted.
Multitasking is the biggest culprit behind unproductive meetings, and checking email and doing unrelated work are noted as the biggest distractions. Ineffective meetings create frustration at all levels, but especially for senior leadership teams, who have limited amounts of free time on any given day.
Executive administrators, meeting coordinators, and assistants alike should plan executive meetings with fundamental (yet often overlooked) principles of good meeting design in mind to ensure that executive meetings are as productive as possible.
Using Design Thinking to Plan More Productive Meetings
Design thinking is a methodology useful in solving complex problems and creating innovative products and services. Highly successful organizations such as IBM and McKinsey & Company implement design thinking to understand their key customers and maintain a competitive advantage. Hugo Sarrazin, a senior partner at McKinsey, believes “the reason [design thinking] is becoming so important today is we’re seeing the limitation of traditional ways of approaching problems.”
According to IDEO, design thinking is human-centered, collaborative, optimistic, experimental, and focused on empathy and understanding the end users’ needs. By empathizing around a specific audience’s needs — in this case, executive meeting attendees — meeting planners can design an engaging experience that meets specified goals while being productive.
Tips for Implementing Design Thinking
Taking a human-centered approach to meetings means getting away from tired traditions and experimenting more, especially when it comes to your executive participants.
There are three major elements of design thinking meeting planners should focus on:
Put yourself in the shoes of an executive meeting attendee. Ask yourself, “What am I looking for when attending an important meeting?” Better yet, hold a focus group to ask executives directly about their needs.
My experience when talking to executive meeting attendees is that they want “to get away without going away.” They want to get out of the standard office boardroom and have a new experience that inspires without distracting. Being in the same space for too long can dull the imagination and discourage participation. New rhythms and different environments have the potential to inspire more innovative thinking and productivity among executives.
It’s especially important to anticipate the needs of these meeting attendees and not break the flow. Make sure the room is fully stocked with everything executive attendees may need — such as notepads, pens, and other office supplies — to ensure participants don’t break focus to look for them.
Similarly, don’t overlook the technology requirements for the meeting room. Attendees don’t want to be scrambling on the floor, looking for electrical outlets or the cords to connect to the screens.
To ensure efficiency and productivity for your attendees, do the legwork ahead of time and develop a partnership with the A/V team at your event venue to ensure all technology questions are answered in advance. Ask them what the biggest pain points have been for other executive meetings hosted in the space so you can address each one well in advance.
Food and drink choices are just as important; “hangry” meeting attendees are not productive. At Convene, we’ve conducted focus groups and interviews with dozens of executives and found meeting attendees want constant access to snacks — both sweet and savory — as well as plenty of caffeinated and noncaffeinated beverages.
If you’re planning a meal, it’s best to completely avoid common allergens such as shellfish and nuts in the food you serve and to always provide vegan and vegetarian options. Also, focus on food that contains rich protein to provide energy and fuel attendees throughout the day so they don’t fall into a slump after lunch.
A Productive Executive Meeting Makes Dollars and Sense
By implementing a design thinking approach, you’ll be able to improve the way people collaborate and communicate in executive meetings. It will often mean that you allocate more planning per meeting and appropriately involve stakeholders in being explicit about their goals.
Design thinking also asks that we measure our results and realize improvements through incremental success. Asking for feedback from meeting attendees, conducting surveys, holding focus groups, and encouraging a mindset of continuous improvement will go a long way toward making executive meetings more of an experience and less of a waste of time in the participants’ eyes.