Two years ago, Harris Poll results showed that 40% of employees' time at work was spent on meetings and administrative tasks and that 59% of employees felt that meetings were "the most wasteful parts of their day."

The situation is no better for corporate executives. Bain and Company, a management consulting firm, reported that at least two days of each working week for executives were committed to meetings, not all of them productive.

So if meetings keep everyone away from doing productive work, why do companies continue to have them?

One reason is lack of a unified understanding across business units of what the company's mission is and how it bears upon the work that employees and managers do. Another reason is the persistence of work "silos," where employees and managers who should be engaging with each other aren't.

The cost of this inability to work without constantly having meetings to get back on track is staggering. "If time really was money, and accounted for in the same way, many companies would be running huge deficits," said Greg Caimi, Bain and Company partner and co-author of a time management study. "Organizations need to audit their time expenditures and put in place tough controls in order to stop the hemorrhaging of an increasingly valuable asset."

Bain's consultancy recommends setting clear meeting agendas and managing organizational time as rigorously as other corporate assets.

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Cisco and IBM team up

Another unspoken reality for many companies is that an element of collaboration remains relatively untapped. Hoping to improve collaboration in companies, Cisco and IBM recently entered into a partnership with the goal of combining the strengths of both companies to transform how knowledge workers collaborate and work.

"At Cisco, we have the IP telephony, and audio and video conferencing facilities with mobile messaging and contact centers, and IBM has strength in email and enterprise social media," said Ross Daniels, senior director of collaboration marketing for Cisco. "When you begin to integrate a facility like Cisco Webex with email, it suddenly becomes possible to connect a group of people in an email with a video conference with the click of a mouse."

Cisco and IBM also plan a second phase of collaboration rollout where analytic platforms like IBM Watson play a role. Daniels envisions a scenario where a university research hospital could use Watson for diagnosis and patient data management. It could also use Watson for collaborative communications that would enable clinicians working on a particular problem to locate other experts in the hospital community who have unique expertise to help resolve it. "This eliminates impasses that often occur because employees in large organizations are unaware of other experts in the same organization who could help them," Daniels said.

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Demonstrating value

To a CEO, the value proposition of this type of collaboration might be immediately apparent--but the CEO and other corporate executives must still convince the board that collaborative tools and a collaborative culture are making a tangible difference.

One way to assess the value of collaborative tools is to measure project performance using such tools versus performance of projects that did not use collaborative technology. If you can show improvement in both quality and time-to-market results, you have a strong case for the tools.

Another avenue for corporate leaders is to implement collaborative technology with the board itself. In this way, board members can experience the benefits of the technology directly.

Either approach is viable. Of course, you can choose to do nothing--but can you afford to?

Proving the payoff

There is enough evidence that corporate communications need improved collaboration to spur Cisco and IBM into working together--and enough evidence from human resource surveys and employee exit interviews to show that meeting gridlock is one of the most demoralizing aspects of corporate life. If collaborative tools and a collaborative culture can help turn the corner on some of these roadblocks, it's worth taking a hard look at how your organization can start building a collaboration framework to improve performance and results.

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