Help! Escaping The Tyranny Of Meetings

What’s the single biggest drain on productivity the western world has ever known? I’ll give you a hint. Chances are, it’s something you know all too well: meetings. I go into organizations all the time, and more than any other complaint, people tell me that meetings are the bane of their existence. They crush our productivity—and the souls of our employees. Here are some statistics:

  • Since the year 2000, the time spent in meetings has gone up by 10% every year. 
  • Unproductive meetings cost US companies alone 37 billion dollars per year. 
  • An executive survey last year viewed 67% of meetings as failures.
  • Executives average 23 hours per week in meetings. 

Now, I’m not saying meetings are all bad. Done well, they do have a purpose. But most of the time, we don’t actually achieve what we set out to do, and it happens for a number of reasons. The good news is, you can help stop this madness. The next time you plan a meeting, rather than simply scheduling something with whoever you can find on a list, ask these questions:

Is this meeting delivering value? 

Before you begin, calculate the ROI of your meeting by adding up the cost of everyone’s time in that meeting (I have done this many times, and it can be truly eye-opening). Ask yourself, is the output from that meeting going to be worth that cost?

Is this meeting the best solution for what you’re trying to accomplish? 

We tend to use meetings to solve all our problems, but there are other options. Send an email instead, or simply walk down the hall for a quick conversation that might take ten minutes instead of a thirty-minute meeting.

Who should be in this meeting? 

Often, we decide that we want everyone who might have an interest to be in this meeting. But think more critically: every time you bring someone into a meeting, you’re saying “no” to something else they could be doing.

How long should this meeting be? 

Break free of the oppression of your calendar app, and try scaling your meeting down to 10 or 15 minutes. You’ll often find that the issue scales down with it since longer meetings tend to fill with unnecessary fluff.

Can you combine multiple meetings? 

Instead of having two meetings a week, combine them (ideally shortening the time as well) to get rid of inefficiencies.

Is this meeting a priority? 

Think about the context within which you are scheduling the meeting. Should the meeting be a priority within that context? For example, in the last week of the quarter or year, we’re often focused on delivering the promised results. Is this the best time to schedule a meeting to plan the company’s next three years? Consider postponing meetings for the appropriate moment.

One last note: if you go through all of these questions and still feel like you need a meeting, at least create an agenda! Only 37% of all meetings in the US have agendas, which means many of our meetings become a waste of time because there’s nothing to help us focus on the topics at hand. So what do we do about this tyranny of meetings? As a leader, it’s up to you. Make sure you and your team use these questions to get your organization’s meetings under control—for your own sake and for your people.