How to Avoid Unproductive Meetings

A few weeks ago a meeting invite popped up on my outlook calendar. Despite the long meeting description I had no idea what the meeting was about or why I was invited.

I went in search of the meeting organizer to get more information. I asked about the objective of the meeting and was told that the meeting was so important “there was no time to mess with objectives.” I was almost honored for a moment since I had never before been invited to such an important meeting. 

The moment was short lived because when I pressed this person for an objective it became clear he truly didn’t have one. He just knew it was important and that “something had to be done.” 

I applaud people with a strong bias for action. What they often fail to understand is that bias for action does not equate to bias for purpose. They lose sight of the important because urgent is staring them in the face. 

The person who sent me the meeting invite was attempting to organize an unproductive meeting.

He was also not the first person to make that mistake.

According to Get a Klu, a consulting firm that provides corporate coaching and training, professionals lose 31 hours per month to unproductive meetings. That’s four work days each month.

That’s not all. Wolf Management Consultants asserts that 73 percent of professionals admit to doing unrelated work in meetings and 39 percent even dozed off in meetings.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average corporate manager spends at LEAST 25% of their time in meetings. 50% or MORE of these meetings are considered to be a waste or completely unnecessary. 

How big a deal is that? Well consider this; even small businesses paying their employees $14-$25 per hour are estimated to lose over $600,000 a year to unproductive meetings. Large businesses lose millions, literally millions of dollars of productivity. Every year! 

If you find that hard to believe then invest 99¢ and try MeetingCalc, an iPhone app that lets you specify how many people are in the room and what the average hourly rate is of the attendees. Be warned, the numbers will absolutely horrify you. 

I’m fortunate to attend productive meetings, sometimes. I attend a monthly sales meeting that always has an agenda, we know going in exactly what’s happening. The objective is reviewed to begin the meeting. The agenda is followed, information is shared, tasks are sometimes assigned and at the end of it, you feel as if you needed to be there and that something was accomplished

I also attend a periodic meeting to plan for a large trade show, the person who organizes it knows what she’s doing. Once again, there is always an agenda that gets followed. She keeps the meeting on track and after it’s completed progress has been made.

Well organized and well run meetings can be productive. The problem is that so few meetings are well organized or well run.  

Well managed meetings begin with a process, great thought is given to who should attend and why they need to be there. Whole departments are never invited when one or two people would do. 

Successful meetings always, always, always, always have a meeting agenda. Without an agenda the meeting is usually doomed from the start and tends to just fill up the time allotted, whether anything is accomplished or not.

The best meetings have a clearly stated objective, it is specific and measurable. This most basic of successful meeting requirements is also the most frequently forgotten.

Productive meetings have a pre-set follow up scheduled. People are accountable to the follow up and any associated due dates. Most failed meetings skip the meeting follow up, except to schedule another meeting.

No meeting agenda or objectives lead to disengaged participants; people whose minds wander and who spend the bulk of the meeting messing with their phone or tablet. With any luck they ARE doing something productive, it just has nothing to do with the meeting they are in.

But here’s the worst part, nobody seems to care. Companies that don’t require meeting objectives and agendas guarantee lost productivity. People who schedule meetings with little consideration regarding who NEEDS to be there and who refuse to prepare an agenda steal time from the other meeting participants. 

Successful, productive meetings are not rocket science. They are the result of thoughtful planning, due consideration of the investment, both the time and money investment and effective follow up to the objectives were met.

There is no question that anyone can run a productive meeting. The question is why don’t they? 

I think it’s a case of laziness. What do you think? 

15 thoughts on “How to Avoid Unproductive Meetings

  1. Preparing for a meeting is exactly like preparing a lesson plan, to me. Everyone invited needs to have a stake in the outcome, and needs to leave with a task to perform. You are correct that measurable objectives are the key to making a meeting productive and a meaningful use of work time. So much that used to happen in meetings can now happen through email and web postings. It was a management revolution in my school when all staff had internet access through our own computers, and checked our email throughout the day. We even got Powerpoints to watch occasionally, on our own time and at our own convenience, that in previous years we would have watched during a long, dull after school meeting. Thank you for another valuable post. WG

    1. You’re very welcome and you make a great point. With the technology available today meetings should be much more productive and not everyone needs to be in the same room.

      1. I’m still active in my community, though retired, and we have great email meetings, accomplishing much while respecting one another’s time. I’ll say it again, because its true: How I wish I had access to your blog when I was a fledgling back in the 80s! You share excellent information.

  2. Interesting stats on the cost of unproductive meetings.

    Many people have meetings to make it look like they’re busy. Or, they want to display their so called leadership status to let everyone know, whose in charge.

  3. Am happy to be following you here. have followed you on twitter for too long, time i do it here too. am not getting tired of reading, as long as it is coming from you

  4. I could TOTALLY relate to this post in my past life in healthcare in regards to MANDATORY monthly staff meetings. And all of the extra ‘required’ task force meetings we were expected to participate on. i.e. Quality Assurance Committees, etc.

    In all of the years I spent in healthcare, I can’t recall a staff meeting that couldn’t have simply been delivered as a printed memo. Seriously. Complete waste of time. And money.

    In nursing, we were already working 12 hour shifts. Every other weekend. Expected to be ‘ on call’ as a rotation on your time off. Called more often then not to cover for other people who call in sick and you were needed to cover for them. Only to also have to attend these mandatory meetings even if they fell on your precious time off.

    Convenient? Not at all.

    Did it matter that we got payed for that time? No. If it was our day off, we would have rather spent that time not having to think about work let alone having to leave our families to attend to meetings that were a complete waste of our time.

    THRILLED I haven’t had to attend one of those in awhile. : )

    1. It amazes me that very very few companies even consider that there is cost associated with meetings. I don’t just mean monetary costs either, the cost in lost productivity, burned up morale, opportunity loss, it goes on and on.

      Lucky you… You escaped 🙂

  5. I’ve fallen asleep at most of the meetings I’ve attended at different companies. Often they are too long, and the speakers drone on and on. You offered good suggestions.

  6. Totally agree with your points.Meetings where one or two people dominate the conversation, that do not engage and involve good participation and ones that don’t start and finish on time are additional points that bug me

    1. Oh yes, meetings that run over the scheduled time are not good. You lose whatever engagement you had and just kill the morale of the people in the meeting. Great point!

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