Meeting Mania: How to Curb this Corporate Addiction

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

We lose 31 hours each month in unproductive meetings. Here's how to cut meeting time in half and increase office productivity.

Think we've gone a little overboard in our obsession with meetings? Consider this:

  • We lose 31 hours each month in unproductive meetings, roughly 4 work days (Tweet This)
  • Nearly 11 million meetings occur in the U.S. every day (Tweet This)
  • Most of us attend roughly 62 meetings per month (Tweet This)
  • Over 50 percent of our time in meetings is considered a waste (Tweet This)

An important study indicates that CEOs spend only six hours per week working alone. They are so wrapped up in meetings, that they have little time to get any work done, much less ponder the strategic vision for the organization. If you’re a CEO, you spend about one-third of your workday in meetings (Tweet).

In another study of 65 CEOs, executives spent roughly 18 hours of a 55-hour workweek in meetings, more than 3 hours on phone calls and 5 hours on business meals. The meetings epidemic is global in reach and affects every level of a company. No one is immune. Well, I can think of one person who is.

“I’m America’s worst attender of meetings,” says marketing guru Seth Godin. “I don’t do any of that.” “A meeting is a very special thing: it’s three or more people talking to each other about a decision that’s going to be made, and probably trying to get someone else to make it,” he explains. “And so I don’t have those. If I need information I have a conversation with one person. That’s not a meeting, that’s a conversation.”

Most of us aren't in the position to simply bail on all meetings, as tempting as that may sound. But there's a lot that you can do to change the frequency with which meetings are called, and the way they are carried out. But if you want to make your case to management—if you're serious about curbing this addiction - here are a few things to consider:

  • Sell it to senior management. If you wish to take your cause up the chain of command, first prepare a one-pager making your case. Focus on the productivity message: by cutting back on unnecessary meetings, we can be more productive workers, and that will directly affect the bottom line. If approved, roll out the new policy to the larger staff and ensure the meetings policy is included in new-employee orientation.
  • Create a company-wide meetings policy. Bring the staff together to discuss and agree on the essentials. Then craft the policy, addressing how (and how not) to conduct meetings. It should cover what meetings can be shortened, consolidated, or eliminated altogether. Keeping meetings short and crisp frees up your staff so they can focus on high-return projects and priorities.
  • Question who really needs to be at a given meeting. If there is not a specific and direct need for someone to be present, don't include them; you'll be doing them a favor. I can hear the supervisor saying, “Jim needs to be in this meeting. He needs to know about this project.” Maybe he does, but there are many ways to educate Jim, such as sending him a project overview. Holding a meeting is probably the least effective.
  • Consider starting small. If you're encountering resistance, start small. Ban meetings one day per week. That's a good start.

So, let's imagine you now have all this extra time that's been freed up. How do you spend it? Reducing unnecessary meetings does not mean you get to hang out in your office or cubicle all day. You will still meet with your team on a regular basis, but the unnecessary 3-hour meeting is replaced with impromptu meetings that occur throughout the day: hallway meetings, one-on-ones with your direct report, and even chats over lunch. This is what Seth means by not doing meetings, but conversations.

The argument is usually framed around productivity: think how much more productive the average worker would be if had an extra 20 hours a week, if not more? Meetings, if not well focused and well organized, can be a drag on productivity. They can also be a drag on employee morale. How many meetings have you attended that are directly relevant to the work you are doing? Whatever those meetings are, keep having them. Get rid of the rest.

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