Does data hold the key to making meetings more efficient?

The meeting: a fundamental activity for any organisation, whatever the size or sector.

But do meetings serve a purpose and are they efficient? According to authors Michael C Mankin and Eric Garton in their book Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, senior executives now spend the equivalent of two days a week in meetings, and the average organisation spends 15% of its collective time in meetings.

Is this time well spent? Are these meetings solving or creating anything useful?

In reality, the answer a lot of the time, is no. Why is this? In large part because the information from participants runs out. Decisions are deferred rather than taken. Further research from Mankin and Garton’s research shows that almost two-thirds of meetings run out of time before an employee can make an important decision. Even worse, days are lost as the missing information is sourced and diaries are juggled to get the right people around the table again. In today’s fast-paced economy, the impact of such time-laden decisions is enough to put a company out of business.

So can businesses actively resolve this problem? If so, how?

The answer is data. Not data that is locked in thousands of rows inside a spreadsheet, but using today’s best technology, data that has been unlocked to show the information so that people around the table can interact with it and analyse it visually during a meeting.

Bringing data to the heart of meetings doesn’t just resolve the “meetings dilemma”, it transforms business. Let me explain.

From static spreadsheets to saving money

When used in a meeting, static, unwieldy spreadsheets just complicate and confuse, driving little business forward.

However, visually analysing data (being able to actually interact with and dig into the data available) means teams can ask and answer questions during a meeting – often in real-time – accelerating decision-making, collaboration and boosting productivity. Everyone can relate to the experience of trying to follow a text-heavy PowerPoint or find valuable insights quickly in a spreadsheet…and failing.

When static data points become interactive, visual dashboards, team members can show up to a meeting, quickly assess the business challenges and begin to spot trends and outliers in the data that drive solutions, sometimes leading to huge business benefits.

Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL) is one organisation using visual analytics to spot new insights, save money, and make smarter, data-driven decisions. In fact, one of JLL’s clients saved $5 million on its energy consumption by seeing and interacting with their data in a dashboard during a meeting – ultimately spotting outliers and identifying the least efficient of its 8,000 locations. Finding game-changing insights like these is only possible in a meeting when data is brought to life.

Data: Your secret weapon

Access to data in a meeting makes use of a team’s best asset: its collective analytical brainpower.

Rather than wasting valuable time, recapping issues and updating the people around the table, bringing data to the heart of meetings brings a level playing field to everyone involved and means they can use their analytical brainpower more often. The ability to visually analyse data together allows everyone to instantly begin the conversation with “why” versus “what”, getting to the heart of issues and making decisions efficiently.

Jaguar Land Rover is another company that has fully embraced using data in its day-to-day meetings. Following one presentation from its CEO to the board, the way the company ran its reporting completely changed. Using visual analytics made not only their reporting run more smoothly, but their meetings more interactive and efficient.

Seeing information laid out clearly means that employees identify problems quicker and thus solutions earlier. Being able to see and understand what you are working towards puts everyone in the room on the same page, from the start, and leads to finding more insights, quickly.

So why aren’t companies doing this already?

Old habits die hard

The biggest barrier to transforming meetings? Our own cultural norms. Folks are used to meetings, on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily basis. It becomes routine, and quite often, a checked box on an employee’s to-do list.

It’s not an easy task to break these cultural norms, but senior leadership can take that first step to identify people within an organisation who are data-savvy. With the help of these ‘data champions,’ organisations can educate and empower employees on the benefits of using visual analytics to speed up decisions both in the boardroom and in their daily work. Coming from the top down and from peers within the company, the data-driven message will begin a culture-shift throughout the organisation.

If in doubt, senior leaders should act as technology advocates to improve business opportunities. This approach is not only good for employees, it’s good for business.

James Eiloart, SVP at EMEA, Tableau