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Make Meetings Matter: 2 Tips to Save Time and Boost Happiness

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Studies show at least half of meeting time is unproductive. One founder offers a pair of tips to cut that percentage. 

By Beck Bamberger (Founder, BAM Communications)

Imagine if half the world’s population got together for a meeting once a year. That’s more than 3 billion meetings, an inconceivable figure. But not to Americans. We actually meet more than 3 billion times a year, or about 11 million times a day, according to numerous teamwork and productivity studies. What’s worse, most of us grumble that all of these get-togethers are a waste of time. Research conducted by the Annenberg School of Communications at UCLA and the University of Minnesota’s Training & Development Research Center show that as much as 50% of meeting time is unproductive and that up to 25% is spent discussing irrelevant issues.

Like most entrepreneurs, I’m consistently seeking ways to be vigilant with my time while keeping my team motivated and engaged. So if you must meet, here are two tactics we’ve implemented that can shave some time as well as spur some happiness.

Group Gratitude

At the end of a our one weekly meeting, we do a round of what I call “group gratitude.” Each team member shares something she or he is grateful for.  Responses range from gratitude for parents, pets, and friendships, to hot water, clean sidewalks, and instant coffee. Sharing puts the world in a better context for our team. It’s easier to forget a nasty email when you’ve realized it is great that you have access to education, laughter, a cool city, fast Wifi, and stellar friends in your life.

What’s more, the practice of gratitude begets happiness. TED talk favorite and monk, David Steindl-Rast, shows that being thankful creates a mindset of happiness. Interestingly, it’s not the other way around. That is, one is not happy and then filled with gratitude. When one identifies things to be grateful for a physiological trigger releases all the feel-good happiness hormones, such as dopamine. The result of this weekly group gratitude ritual is like a constant “IV drip” of contentment, which saves me time from scurrying from one employee to the next, trying to cheerlead every individual during the week. Additionally, swanky perks like catered organic lunches, time-intensive retreats, or plushy bonuses are expensive and often not the panacea for cheerless corporate existence. This group gratitude practice is cheap, easy, and fast.

Take away: Have your team collectively count their blessings. It boosts happiness, saves you time on motivating, and doesn’t cost a dime.

Group Social Share

Every Monday morning, my team of eight and I gather around to share what we did this weekend. Each person talks for two minutes at most and highlights just the best points of the time-off. When I told my good friend who has a staff of 14 about this “social share” practice, she exclaimed, “God!  My team must spend an hour and half each Monday talking to each other about what they all did this weekend.” I mentioned that my team spends 16 minutes, flat, to recap the weekend’s highlights. Overall, I estimate that we collectively save 384 hours a year (one hour a week to share with every person times eight people doing the sharing with one another in a 48-week year).

In addition to saving some serious time, sharing stories in a group setting or “controlled gossip,” as I like to call it, is a positive social bonder as old as cavemen. Our hairy ancestors had to have a handle on the inner workings of their tribes in order to know who could hunt down the woolly mammoth and who’d pick the best berries. Of course, modern “tribes” in the workplace don’t require the sharing of life and death data, but sharing stories is hard-wired to reduce stress. Sharing stories releases progesterone, a hormone that reduces anxiety and stress, according to a recent University of Michigan study. Plus, sharing stories keeps us in line. According to a 2004 Florida State University study, gossip teaches us what’s normal and expected behavior, and dissuades us from doing the opposite. No one in our team, for instance, is a keg stand or walk of shame champion, or at least knows not to disclose such information.

Take away: Have your team share their weekends’ highlights, saving the time it takes to share the highlights individually. Bonus-story sharing reduces anxiety and sets the tone of expected conduct.

What’s your top tip for more productive meetings?

About the guest blogger: Beck founded BAM Communications in 2006 and has since founded three other businesses, Bite San Diego, Nosh Las Vegas, and Pangea Pal. In 2011, she won an Emmy for on camera hosting in a talk show format for her show, Next 500. She is currently a board member of Gen-Next and CONNECT and is a 2014 Political Leadership Institute scholar.