Transforming Meetings from Time Wasters to Bottom Line Boosters

by Granville Triumph

The average senior executive spends 23 hours per week in meetings, according to a study by the Wharton Center for Applied Research at the University of Pennsylvania. Senior and middle managers say a little more than half of these meetings are actually useful and a quarter could be replaced by a phone call or email.

The annual “Wasting Time at Work” survey from Salary.com found that meetings were considered the third biggest waste of time in the workplace behind the use of Google and social media.

According to a survey from Clarizen and Harris, three in five employees claim status meeting preparation takes longer than the meeting. 35 percent believe status meetings are a waste of time. 17 percent would rather watch paint dry.

Why are so many meetings ineffective and flat out despised? Most meetings serve no strategic purpose and support no specific business objective. Sometimes the wrong people attend meetings and end up being the most vocal participants, while people who should be leading the meetings are absent. Meetings quickly go off topic and turn into a never-ending free-for-all with no structure or control. More importantly, there is minimal progress and the organization has nothing to show for the time spent preparing for and conducting each meeting.

As a result, meetings tend to cause friction between employees instead of improving collaboration, strengthening relationships, and moving everyone forward toward a common goal. People miss meetings or daydream because meetings are viewed as a waste of time. Employees just want to get back to work, viewing the meeting as a barrier to work instead of essential to reaching business goals.

Think about the cost of ineffective, weekly status meetings. Multiply the number of hours by the number of participants by the average hourly wage of those participants. Multiply that number by 52 to determine the annual cost of one weekly status meeting that accomplishes very little if anything. Repeat this exercise for every ineffective meeting and you’ll produce staggering numbers.

The first step to changing attitudes about meetings and making them more effective is to design a clear agenda for every meeting. Encourage input and suggestions from all participants and the reasoning behind their ideas, but make sure all agenda items are presented in a way that is relevant to all participants. This will lead to more engagement and a more positive feeling about meetings as time well spent. Define the purpose of each agenda item. Is the goal to share information, seek input to guide a decision or make a decision? Also, allocate a specific amount of time for each item, and follow a formal process for addressing everything on the agenda. This will help to prevent confusion and keep the meeting focused.

Make sure participants know how they should prepare and what they are expected to bring to the table. Identify a clear objective and make sure everyone invited to the meeting, and all topics to be covered, contribute to achieving that objective. Assign a specific person to lead each topic, but allow dissenting voices to be heard. Start on time, end on time, and keep participants focused by shutting off all mobile devices. End each meeting with a brief recap of decisions made, action items and next steps so everyone is on the same page.

Meetings can be extremely productive and lead to game-changing ideas, innovation and competitive advantages. They can also be a complete waste of time and cost your organization an obscene amount of money each year. The choice is yours.

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