Want More Productivity? Have Fewer Meetings!

You’ve been sitting in the same room for almost an hour.

Nothing has been accomplished. You haven’t spoken up once, as your mind is somewhere else. Your back is getting sore and, thinking back on it, you’re not even sure why this meeting was held in the first place.

You were going to decline the meeting invite, but instead you clicked “accept” and here you are. It seems like every time someone speaks up with a good idea or question, someone else interrupts to shoot down the idea or raises their voice and talks over the person with the good idea.

Based on the gossip the group is jabbering about, your time would be better spent at your desk getting actual work done.

“A meeting is an interaction where the unwilling, selected from the uninformed, led by the unsuitable, to discuss the unnecessary, are required to write a report about the unimportant.” — Thomas Kayser

Meetings often start late, get off course, and don’t accomplish their intended goals (if there even are any). When you factor in coffee and bathroom breaks, off-topic discussion, meetings that run long and have too many or unnecessary people in the room, their prevalence can be a head scratcher.

So why all the meetings?

Many times it’s simply an old-school mindset: That’s the way we’ve always done it.

Just so we are crystal clear: I’m not saying every single meeting is a waste of time. But too many meetings are a curse for productivity.

Are meetings really the best way to leverage the ideas and brain power of those in the room? How much are unnecessary meetings costing your company?

According to this piece by Adam Grant and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, the meeting problem is even worse for women (and the companies they work for). In double-blind experiments, women who speak up in meetings have their ideas discounted, interrupted, or stolen by their male counterparts. This gender bias is doing a disservice to women, their companies, and their clients.

The Economics of Meetings

Estimates on the number of business meetings held a day in the United States vary, but most numbers come in right around 11 million. That’s roughly 3 billion meetings per year. How does this affect a company?

Dollar Value

What are the true costs of these meetings?

Let’s say you spend five hours per week in meetings. That’s 250 hours of meetings a year, assuming you work 50 weeks a year.

250 hours X billable rate to client = Cost of Meeting per Attendee

Let’s say the billable rate to the client is $250 per hour for the consultant. That’s $62,500 per year spent on that person being in the meeting. Have a room full of consultants meeting with the client and you can see how the costs of meetings can add up.

This doesn’t even factor in the opportunity cost of the work that could be done in lieu of being in the meeting.

Time Value

Do the math on what that costs your company in terms of productivity. Continuing the example above:

250 hours of meetings a year = six and a quarter weeks of work (1.5 months) per year

What could your employees and company do with an extra month and a half of production each year? Keep this in mind next time you’re thinking about inviting the whole office to a meeting (small businesses) or filling the room with consultants for larger firms.

How would your business change if you could offer employees an extra week of vacation? Job satisfaction would increase, as would your ability to differentiate yourself from the competition while hiring. Who wouldn’t want an extra week of vacation? And you’d still have an extra five weeks of production to give you the edge over your competition.

These numbers are estimates and will vary, but the case has been made to reduce or eliminate meetings, as the numbers clearly show their hidden costs.

If You Must Have Meetings…

  • Invite fewer people, thereby allowing others to keep working. Steve Jobs was famous for asking people to leave meetings if their presence wasn’t necessary.
  • Have agendas sent out in advance, so meetings can be easily canceled if more pressing matters arise.
  • Require everyone in the meeting to speak up or contribute by creating a format where everyone’s ideas are heard and valued.
  • Set a hard start and stop time to the meeting.
  • Remove the chairs from the meeting room. You will not have folks lingering any longer than need be if everyone is on their feet.
  • Clearly lay out: This meeting is to discuss X and decide Y. If there is no decision needed on Y, the meeting isn’t necessary or, at the very least, not mandatory.

How many meetings are you holding each week? How many of them are extremely important? How many could be canceled? Are they getting the best out of everyone in the room?

If not, it’s time to get creative with your meetings to make them more productive — or consider scrapping meetings altogether and increasing vacation time while still getting an extra month of production out of your company each year.

Meet less, do more in the year ahead.

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