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.
In her New York Times article, "Time Wasted? Perhaps It’s Well Spent", Lisa Belkin mentions a collaborative study by Microsoft, America Online and Salary.com which found that the average worker only actually works three out of five days a week. The other two days are spent on unproductive activities, including meetings. 71 per cent of respondents felt that meetings were a waste of time.
As our time spent at work goes up, our efficiency goes down.
Same applies for meetings. The more time you give, the more people will use that time to discuss inane and unnecessary issues that can be resolved in a two-line email or five-minute conversation offline.
- Usually involve too many people with divergent agendas that derail the true objectives.
- Often are held without a clearly defined purpose, agenda and outcome defined, so tend to wander about achieving little of real value.
- Spawn more meetings; usually scheduled so close together that no one has time to properly prepare. Hence you have a room full of people more concerned about being caught not knowing their stuff versus being active, productive participants in the conversation, ready and able to contribute their best thinking.
- Are scheduled to last for ridiculously long stretches of time, not taking into account the limitations of our attention and the need to actually get work done.
- Does this issue require a meeting or can it be resolved through other forms of communication?
- What high-value outcomes will we achieve during this meeting?
- Who really needs to be there? Who doesn't?
- What is the agenda?
- How short can this meeting be?
- Schedule a meeting for one hour or more just because you think other issues will come up that need to be handled. People will take up whatever time you give them.
- Allow for last-minute agenda items that have nothing to do with achieving the main objectives.
- Let someone with their own divergent agenda hijack the meeting. If you call it, you manage it.
- Allow any last-minute inclusions or attendees unless they are congruent to the scheduled agenda. People will try to jump in simply because they don't want to be left out. Not because they want to contribute anything meaningful.
- Send out the agenda ahead of time and ask people to send you any suggestions to include that specifically relate to the agenda.
- Ask them also to prepare for specific issues and realise they probably won't anyway.
- Reiterate the agenda at the start of the meeting, along with the timing. Then stick to it to the letter. If anyone strays off topic, suggest they either handle it offline, via other communication or at another meeting.
- Ensure your meeting is scheduled for the shortest time possible.
- Schedule breaks every 1 hour for longer sessions.
- Complete the meeting with clear items to action, complete with specific deadlines and one person who will take ownership of that action.
Remember though, just like prescription medication that is helpful when used as directed and harmful in large doses, meetings need to be taken as prescribed.