Pharma won’t change until its culture changes

Unnecessary meetings are the bane of the corporate world. Yet, despite what appears to be an overwhelming consensus that they’re often unnecessary and unproductive, many pharma and biotech companies continue to struggle to avoid them.

Everyone hates meetings. Attending too many can be highly stressful and tiring, and both productivity and quality take a hit when employees tune out, become demotivated, and lose valuable heads-down work time. As such, it’s hardly a surprise that managers in one survey reported 83% of the meetings on their calendars were unproductive or that US-based professionals rated meetings as the “number one office productivity killer.” So why are pharma and biotech companies so relentless when it comes to meetings?

Too many poorly planned and executed meetings reflect a dysfunctional culture. Conversely, productive, inclusive, and timely meetings generate employees’ energy, purpose, and engagement—hallmarks of a vibrant culture. But which is which?

The cause of most unnecessary meetings is the “matrix organization.” A matrix organizational structure is a cross-collaborative effort to position people in the right teams. The management style is also different and comes from functional and project directions.

Matrix Management = Slower Decision-Making

In matrix organizations, too many cooks in the kitchen. The result is slower decision-making. This is because multiple managers weighing in on a task or issue can mean a longer time to resolution or execution, especially if your managers disagree on the best course of action.

As mentioned above, the lack of clarity regarding or overlapping authority can delay decision-making efforts. While managers may go back and forth over a desire to own the decision, it’s also likely managers do not wish to own a decision for fear of potential fallout. Either would delay execution.

Additionally, the complex nature of a matrix organization means it might take longer for teams to reach a consensus regarding the next steps. With information moving freely between teams, it cannot be easy to ensure everyone is on the same page about the current state of a project.

Pharma and biotech companies can prevent these kinds of roadblocks by adopting clear decision-making processes and frameworks. When managers and teams are on the same page about how to approach a decision, the team can move from the decision to the implementation phase at a faster pace. Establishing who owns the final decision or the decision-making process before the work begins can save the team from major delays toward the end of their work or project.

Anyone working in pharma understands the culture of endless, back-to-back meetings, but only some people have the time to do something about it, hurting their brands. I once attended a meeting to decide what type of box flap should be used for an antibiotic cream. It lasted over two hours. That is ridiculous.

It will continue until managers and senior executives say, “make decisions without a meeting,” and empower more people to do what they were hired to do. The other problem is that too many people want to be part of the decision-making so they can cement their jobs or titles.

More and more cpmpanies are learning that speed is a competitive advantage. Within pharma and biotech it’s a reason to have more meetings.