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Why Meetings Kill Productivity (and What to Do About It)

Ray Williams
Ray Williams
at Ray Williams Associates

Meetings take up a lot of time and contribute to the expanding workday. Learn how to make them more productive.

Have you ever sat through a meeting and said to yourself, "What a waste of time, I could be getting my work done"? If your answer is yes, you are not alone. Meetings take up an ever-increasing amount of employees' and executives' time, which has been a contributor to the expanding workday.

While meetings can be a useful strategy and process for sharing work progress and connecting with others, excessive and poorly run meetings can have a significant negative effect on productivity and employee motivation. Research has proved this over and over again, and there's a chance we'll all need to run successful video meetings for the foreseeable future.

What research says about meeting productivity

In a report by Harvard Business Review, more than 70% of the 182 senior managers surveyed agreed that meetings are unproductive and inefficient. Respondents said meetings keep them from completing their own work (65% ), come at the expense of deep thinking (64%), and miss opportunities to bring the team closer together (62%).

A study conducted by Beenote showed that lack of participant preparation (28%), lack of team communication (20%), time allocated is not observed (17%), lack of follow-up tasks (25%), and lack of minute keeping (13%) are among the top problems with unproductive meetings.

Beyond reduced productivity, excessive meetings can even pose a health threat. According to Public Health England CEO, Duncan Selbie, sitting in meetings slows down metabolism and reduces the body's capacity to regulate its sugar and thus blood pressure. These effects can lead to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and even death.

How to make the most of your meeting time

It's probably unrealistic to think about scrapping meetings altogether. However, significantly reducing both the frequency and amount of time spent in them could increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Here are 10 ways to facilitate more productive meetings:

1. Try a walking meeting.

Consider having walking meetings rather than sitting down. Walking meetings can be a benefit for participants' health. The previously mentioned Beenote survey found that meetings are most meetings last between 30 minutes and one hour. If you are walking at an average 20 minute per mile pace (about 2,000 steps per mile), that could result in an extra 3,000 to 6,000 steps per meeting.

Since 60% of surveyed participants said they have meetings several times a week, this could result in some serious overall health benefits. Additionally, employees may save some personal time after work that they otherwise would have spent walking anyway, improving their work-life balance.

2. Set strict time limits.

Your employees' time is valuable, so limit the length of the meeting to one hour, or less, if you can. And end the meeting on time, even if the agenda topic is not completed. When you set strict time limits, employees can better plan their workday around the meeting, with the expectation that they will be released from the meeting on time. Additionally, this will force meeting planners to condense their agendas to only the topics that really matter.

3. Create and distribute a meeting agenda ahead of time.

Have a clear agenda distributed in advance that announces the goal of the meeting and anticipated outcomes. Ensure the agenda has a limited number of action and discussion items. This meeting agenda will help keep the meeting on track and can help you stick to your anticipated time limit.

4. Decide on clear, assigned action items for after the meeting.

No one wants to attend a pointless meeting that accomplishes nothing – yet this happens all too often. Ensure there are specific and actionable follow-up tasks to decisions made at the meeting, including who is responsible and accountable for each item. This clarity will help bring purpose to your meeting and will put your organization in the best position to succeed. Creating after-meeting action items will also help prepare employees for the next meeting, since they will be able to report on their progress or findings.

5. Send follow-up information and details.

If several important details are being discussed during the meeting, make it clear to employees that you will be distributing the information after the meeting. This will free employees from taking detailed meeting notes and allow them to better engage in the discussion. After the meeting, don't forget to actually send the follow-up information.

6. Don't hold status update meetings.

A common phrase heard around the office is "That meeting could have been an email." Avoid unnecessary meetings by being tactical about the types of meetings you are hosting. Do not use meetings for updates or information dissemination that can be handled by other methods, such as email.

7. Start on time.

Always start the meeting on time and don't allow participants to take part after 15 minutes. Also, do not spend time updating late arrivals on what they missed. If you form a habit of starting meetings on time, employees will create a habit of joining meetings on time. This keeps the meeting on track and helps you stay within your designated timeframe.

8. Put a cap on the meeting size.

Smaller meetings encourage more employees to participate, so it is a good practice to limit the number of people involved in each meeting. While maintaining between seven and nine participants may be ideal, your meeting cap will ultimately depend on your team size. A good way to keep meetings small is by only inviting the necessary parties to attend. Uninvited employees will appreciate fewer meetings, and those who attend are likely to benefit from a more productive meeting.

9. Give people an out.

Allow employees the right to decline their attendance without penalty. If the meeting is critical and attendance is mandatory, you can emphasize the importance of the meeting. However, if an employee has prior engagements that take precedent, work with them to find the best solution.

10. Keep the conversation moving.

If you are the meeting host, control the discussion by not letting individual participants dominate the conversation, or repeat what has already been said. You can also examine other ways to share content in meetings, including alternatives to brainstorming, presentations, and the use of media and technology.

Additional reporting by Skye Schooley.

Image Credit: UfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock
Ray Williams
Ray Williams
business.com Member
Ray Williams, Master Certified Coach, is widely regarded as one of Canada’s top executive coaches. He brings over 35 years experience to his clients as a CEO, and senior HR executive and professional speaker. Ray is the recipient of the Master Educator Award from the American Society of Education Executives, and is also past President of the International Coach Federation and Governor of the National Staff Development Council in the U.S. He has clients in Fortune 500 companies, Best Managed Companies in Canada and small to medium sized businesses and non-profit organizations throughout the world in the areas of leadership, workplace culture, team development and peak performance. He has been very active in such organizations as the Vancouver Board of Trade, having served as a Director and Vice-Chair. Ray has written for or been interviewed by The Washington Post, Forbes, USA Today, NBC News, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, MacLean’s, The Financial Post, Fast Company and Psychology Today, Salon, and dozens of other and other national and international publications having published more than 300 articles. He is author of a new best selling book, Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Navigate Chaotic Workplaces. He has also written a book on educational leadership, The Leadership Edge, a personal growth book, Breaking Bad Habits, and was contributing author to Systemic Change, and the Best Seller, Ready, Aim, Influence. He has also written a novel and screenplay entitled Dragon Tamer.