How often have you sat through a meeting and said to yourself, “what a waste of time, I could be doing something better!” If your answer is yes, you are not alone. Meetings take up an ever-increasing amount of employees', and particularly managers' time. My experience in working with executives and managers is that 40-50 percent of their time is taken up with meetings, that either they call, or have to attend. Which leaves precious little time left to actually get work done.
What is the solution? Unfortunately it has been to expand the working day. According to the Center for Work Life Policy, the average professional workweek has expanded steadily over the last decade, with many people logging 60-70 hours per week. Some people even read their email messages while going to the bathroom.
A variation of Parkinson’s Law applied to meetings goes something like this: “Meeting activities expand to fill the time available.” Ergo, more time, more activities. If you set an hour for the meeting, people will use the hour, regardless of how much is on the agenda.
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 percent of their time spent in meetings were a waste of time. According to a 3M Meeting Network survey of executives, 25-50 percent of the time people spend in meetings is wasted. And according to a survey by Office Team, a division of Robert Half International, 45 percent of senior executives surveyed said that their employees would be more productive if their firms banned meetings for a least one-day a week.
Lisa Belkin, writing in the New York Times, describes a collaborative study by Microsoft, America Online and Salary.com regarding the actual amount of time workers worked in an average day and week. The study concluded that the average worker actually worked only three days per week or about 1.5 hours per day. The study identified that the rest of the working time was “wasted,” with unproductive meetings heading the list.
According to a new Clarizen/Harris Interactive surey, only 40 percent of employees think status update meetings waste valuable time, and 70 percent say these meetings don’t help them get any work done. And 67 percent of those surveyed say they are spending up to four hours per week getting ready for their next status update meeting.
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. Once 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.
Former Ernst & Young executive, Al Pittampalli, author of Read This Before Our Next Meeting, argues most meetings are mediocre and not necessary, “not about coordination but about a bureaucratic excuse-making and the kabuki dance of company politics. We’re now addicted to meetings that insulate us from the work we ought to be doing.” He contends that traditional meetings create an unnecessary culture of compromise and kill our sense of urgency. He outlines three types of meetings: convenience, formality and social in which a false sense of urgency is created. Pittampalli argues that informal conversations, group work sessions and brainstorming sessions are not really meetings, and shouldn’t be treated as such. He presents 7 principles for good meetings if they need to be held. Of these principles, the most striking are:
If you absolutely must have meetings, here’s some suggestions on making them more productive, other than the standard criteria of having an agenda, and distributing it in advance with relevant information:
You'll have to excuse me now, I have a meeting to go to.