Over the last year, I’ve heard several, commonly recurring themes from business leaders with whom I work.

Boosting efficiency, increasing agility and building collaborative networks are just three such themes that crop up time and again.

Many leaders are turning to digital solutions to fix these issues but I believe there are simpler, more fundamental approaches that could make a significant difference.

Efficiency, agility, and collaboration require behavioral & cultural changes across the organization. Its led from the top and requires a systematic approach to make them endemic. It means changing some cultural norms, trying new approaches and tackling some of the areas that steal time, fuel silos and slow the wheels of commerce.

With this in mind; here are three culprits that we could turn our attention to in 2020.

Meeting culture

Meetings are essential for enabling collaboration, creativity, and innovation. They can foster relationships and ensure information exchange and alignment. They can provide real value.

However, poorly executed meetings & excessive meetings come at a high cost which is paid for by reducing productivity, focus, and engagement.

With the average office worker spending more than one day every week on meetings, addressing the waste of hours resulting from ineffective and inefficient meetings could be the single biggest boost to productivity for any organization.

I recently came across a survey conducted in 2016 which revealed that the average UK worker attends 3.7 meetings every week, spending one hour nine minutes preparing for each meeting and one hour 22 minutes actually attending them.

If that’s not bad enough many office workers state that most meetings they attend are inefficient and could be shorter.

Call me a skeptic but in the intervening 4 years, I haven’t seen a positive shift in this trend.

What type of meeting culture do you have? Do people generally feel that the majority of meetings they attend are productive, time-efficient and relevant? Do the meetings you attend help you meet your goals?

Culture of conversation

Good business thrives on conversation. Be that with employees, customers, partners, collaborators or thought leaders. It is the fuel that drives collaboration, builds relationships and reveals insight. Organizations are a series of conversations but sadly the art of conversation is neglected in favor of email and PowerPoint presentations.

Great leaders I’ve seen are masters of conversation, they are curious and interested in not only the topic but the people and how they think. Likewise, I see this reflected in their organizations. When a healthy culture of human to human conversation is established the rewards are reaped in strong collaboration, engagement, and alignment.

Do you constantly reinforce the need to ask questions and reward those who ask why? Does your physical office layout support conversation? Do you have role models in the business who can lead by example? Is there an over-reliance on email communication?

Foster a deep work culture

In his book ‘Deep work’ Cal Newport provides some great tips that help to create time and space for the important stuff. These are the efforts that create value for the business, improve our skills and are harder for others to replicate.

In a McKinsey study 2012; 60% of our working week sees us engaged in electronic communication (reading, answering email, etc). Unwittingly we have created an environment that isn’t always conducive to deep work.

In order to build a culture of deep work focus, we need to first identify and actively avoid some of the shallow work. By doing this we can significantly build our agility muscle.

Checking email, filling in a spreadsheet, responding to a general request in Slack, tweaking the monthly slide update — these are all examples of shallow work.

Specifically, it’s “noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

These are the tasks that feel good to get out of the way, but leave you asking ‘what did I achieve today’?

Newport says the trick to knowing what tasks are shallow versus deep is measuring in months how long it would take to train a smart intern to complete it. This helps clear some ambiguity over tasks that may be important (filing a certain report) but not deep.

While most jobs require plenty of shallow work, we could help people to first identify the shallow vs deep work requirements and provide the tools and training to help place deep work at the core.

 Does your physical environment support deep work? How much of your week do you consciously dedicate to deep work? Do you know how much time you spend engaged in electronic communication?

If you are interested in chatting to me about how you might practically tackle some of these issues I’d love to hear from you.