It’s Time to Put an End to Bad Meetings

Let’s be honest. No one likes meetings. They may perform a necessary function occasionally, but the majority of the time they are a big fat waste. Most are poorly structured, badly run and an annoyance for everyone in attendance. Let me give you a prime example from a client working for a major international bank. There was a routine status audio conference call scheduled shortly after he took over his team. It’s the type of meeting that is rampant in business today. What made this one unique? It had 60 people on the invite list. Yes, you heard me right, 6 – 0.

We won’t get into the bizarre logic of bringing together such a large group or the question of productivity, or lack thereof. Let’s talk numbers. The team had been meeting for months. Think of the cost. Using a very conservative salary estimate of $55,000/year, let’s run the numbers.

$55,000 a year

$1,058 a week

$27 an hour

One meeting: $27 x 60 = $1,620

Monthly cost: $1,620 x 4 = $6,480

Yearly cost: $6,480 x 12 = $77,760

By canceling this one meeting, my client had saved his company over $77K a year. Talk about low hanging fruit. Give that man a raise!

No one is suggesting meetings can be eliminated as a useful business tool. But unless there is a major crisis in full swing, getting 60 people together whether in person or via technology is a generally bad idea for your bottom line. Good meetings can facilitate solutions to problems, eliminate misunderstanding and accelerate decision-making, but only if they are structured with a purpose and facilitated by someone who knows how to run one effectively. This is true whether you’re working together in a central office or scattered around the globe. Of course, it’s vital for remote teams to stay in touch and be connected, but it’s equally important to make sure you’re not wasting people’s time.

  1. Define the objective first. It’s important to have a tangible purpose– If you can’t answer two essential questions: why are you meeting and what’s the desired outcome, don’t call a meeting. If you have the answers, stay as narrowly focused as possible and be very clear on the purpose of the meeting – is this a working session, a decision-making event or a communication platform for disseminating information. Do the pre-work before the meeting so you can focus on facilitation during the meeting.
  2. Build agendas – everyone knows agendas keep things on track – but build your agenda with names attached so attendees know they have responsibilities to be present and active. Send out agendas and meeting materials ASAP, especially with international groups. Respect your colleagues and give them the time they need to prepare.
  3. Only invite the people who need to be there – meeting invite lists have become convoluted and much too political. By keeping groups small, you can control the agendas and get straight to the point quickly. By inviting people with purpose, you can make a better business case for individual engagement. Professionals today are time-pressed and meeting-fatigued. If they don’t see the purpose, they may attend in body but, be assured, they aren’t really listening. Audio calls are the worst. Busy people multi-task. It’s a survival strategy we’ve all learned. Even conscientious people are checking emails or doing other things if they know they have no active part to play in the meeting agenda.
  4. Keep meetings short – Just because you schedule a 60-minute meeting, doesn’t mean it needs to last 60 minutes. If the team achieves the goal ahead of schedule, give people back their time, end the meeting early. Think of Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Think of your meetings as a game. Challenge the group to get right to business so you can all signoff early. Experiment with shorter, more focused agendas. You will be very popular and people will definitely thank you for it.
  5. Follow up and name names – If you called the meeting, it’s up to you to follow-up with the meeting summary in a timely fashion. Make sure your notes include the list of to-dos complete with deadlines. If this is appropriate, well-written meeting notes are content that can be distributed to larger groups to keep people in the know. Of course, this depends on the circumstances – sending unnecessary emails is a great topic for us to tackle next time.

What’s your view of meetings? What’s the dumbest one you ever attended? Do you think meetings can be effective?

Photo by Headway