meeting madness

Do you suffer from meeting madness?  While essential for enabling collaboration, creativity and fostering relationships, meetings can be one of the biggest time wasters in organisations.

So much so, that it’s been estimated that Senior Managers spend around 23 hours per week in meetings (MIT Sloan).

Every minute spent in a wasteful meeting eats into time for creativity and deep-thinking work.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that wasteful and inefficient meetings come at a significant cost to the organisation, as well as employee’s well being.

Harvard Business Review found in a recent survey of 182 senior managers in a range of industries that:

  • 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work,
  • 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient,
  • 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking,
  • 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together,
  • Only 17% reported that their meetings are generally productive.

A study by the University of North Carolina found that how workers feel about the effectiveness of meetings correlates with their general satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their jobs.  They found ineffective, wasteful meetings impact happiness and have a toll productivity, focus, and engagement.

Why do people put up with the strain that meetings place on their time and sanity?

It could be cultural and has become a norm in the organisation.  It could be because it feels like the right thing to do to show support and engagement.  It might be that people feel they can’t say no and finally, it could be due to lack of awareness of exactly how much time is being spent in meetings and the impact this has on the organisation.

Changing the way companies approach meetings is possible.  The first way to do this is to make reducing time in wasteful meetings your top time management priority.

Here are six tips to help with managing meeting madness to ensure your meetings transform from too many, too long and badly run to effective, collaborative and a way to foster relationships:

1.Stop accepting meeting requests blindly:

Never send (or accept) a meeting request without a clear purpose, agenda and outcome. 

Send any pre-reading out in advance.  Meeting time should not be used to go through the pre-reading, but used to discuss opportunities, concerns and confirm decisions.

Confirm why each person is required to attend.  Are they a decision maker, there for an update, required to give an update, etc.

This will ensure only those that are required will be there. Those there will know their role and can therefore prepare in advance and contribute more effectively.  It will also allow the person being invited to reflect on whether they are the best person to attend from their team.

2. Stop defaulting meeting times to 30 or 60 mins:

Parkinson’s Law states that any task will swell to fill the time allocated for it, this includes meetings.  Is it a quick update that could be done in 10 minutes? If so, allocate 10 minutes and stick to this time.

3. Allocate ‘meeting time’ in your calendar:

Rather than allowing meetings to be scattered throughout your calendar, chopping your day up, allocate ‘meeting time’ and do meetings back to back.

Research from Ohio State University found the time between meetings, is used less productively, with 22% less work done.  When meetings chop up your day, it also leaves less blocks of time for focused, deep-thinking work.

Having blocks of time free of meetings will increase individual productivity and reduces spill-over of work into personal time.

4. Have a ‘no devices allowed’ rule:

Remove distractions such as phones, laptops, etc.  Your meetings will be more productive and people more engaged with a no-tech rule.

When people are distracted, on phones or devices, they miss things.  Critical information may be missed or the speaker may need to repeat themselves.  As a result, meetings will be ineffective and run longer than they need to.

Also, when someone is scrolling through their phone or reading email while someone is talking it sends a poor message about their engagement in the meeting and their interest in what the speaker is saying.

5. Review all regular or standing meetings:

Is the weekly team update really required weekly?  Does it meet objectives, and more importantly, do attendees even know what the objectives are?

Or, is it something that’s been in place so long now that it just happens but no longer provides much value?  A review of you or your team’s calendars may provide some surprises in how much time is dedicated to regular meetings.  All of these should be reviewed-do they meet objectives, are the correct people in the room, how frequently should they occur and how long do they need to be.

6. Plan to end the meeting properly:

Ensure the meeting ends on time, use a countdown timer if necessary, and allow time to close the meeting properly. Without proper closure, things can be left unsaid, unchallenged, unclear, and/or uncommitted.

In your close, confirm any decisions made and the next steps.  Ensure someone is responsible for the next steps with a due date.  Following the meeting, email this to all attendees so no one is left unsure.

So, don’t sit through another meeting thinking of everything else you should be doing.  Instead take these easy steps towards changing the meeting culture in your organisation.  Yes, it will take some work and some persistence.  But, if you involve your team in the changes, communicate why it’s important and set some improvement targets you will discover new and more effective ways of working together.