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Want to improve productivity? Scrap meetings

Scrap meetings and improve productivity

In my work with CEOs, senior executives and employees the number one complaint is meetings--specifically how they are a waste of time. And even though the recession has resulted in reduced employee levels, the demand for meeting time has not changed. As renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, "meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything."

In a survey reported in Industry Week, 2000 managers claimed that at least 30% of their time spent in meetings were a waste of time. According to a 3M Meeting Network survey of executives, 25-50% of the time people spend in meetings is wasted. And according to a survey by Office Team, a division of Robert Half International, 45% of senior executives surveyed said that their employees would be more productive if their firms banned meetings for a least one day a week.

Mike Figliudo, writing in SmartBrief on Leadership, conducted a poll asking this question: "How much time do you spend in recurring meetings?" He was shocked by the results. Thirty percent of the respondents are spending between 30-75% of their time in recurring meetings. He claims much of this time is a waste of money Figliudo calculates the cost by taking the total annual compensation of each fo the people in the meeting , dividing by 250 days per year and dividing that by 8 hour s a day. Using an example of a typical company of senior managers, a monthly 2 hour staff meeting was costing the company $180K per year. Figliudo asks, is the resulting productivity worth the investment?

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And brain research may provide us with another reason to not have meetings. Research by University of Minnesota psychologist Kathleen Vohs and her colleagues as well as other neuroscientists, indicates that we have a limited amount of cognitive or what they call "executive" resources. One they get depleted, we make bad decisions or choices. Business meetings require people to commit, focus and make decisions, with little or no attention paid to the depletion of the finite cognitive resources of the participants--particularly if the meetings are long. So if that is true, the three or four hour project meetings may be counterproductive.

If meetings are absolutely necessary, leaders responsible for them need to both manage the meetings efficiently and be skilful group processes, something that, in my experience, most executives are not trained to do. Here's some useful tips for meetings:
     1. Don't hold a meeting unless you have to. Avoid recurring meetings
     2. Be clear about the outcome and purpose of the meeting.
     3. Have someone run the meeting who is skilled at group process
     4. Distribute a specific agenda including intended outcomes in advance
     5. Don't use meetings to distribute information or give updates or low level housekeeping--do that                by email

     6. Hold meetings just before lunch so people will value the limited time

     7. Use stand-up meetings without chairs or tables wherever possible
     8. Limit meetings to one hour in length
     9. Always begin and end the meetings at the announced times

For the most part, research shows that meetings can actually be counterproductive, and people don't like them. If you have to hold them, control them.

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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