The Ugly Truth about Meetings – and How to Fix Them

Following is an edited version of an article I wrote for our Home Office staff at Murdoch’s.

Ahhhh, the holidays. A time for family, friends, egg nog (with or without a healthy glug of rum), and me playing Christmas carols too loud from my office. As the year winds down, the desire to reflect is too often replaced by the annual scramble to submit budgets, make 1st quarter buying show plans, and work out goals for next year. Invariably, this means there are a lot of meetings happening. A quick glance at the conference room calendars shows just how busy some days can be, and if it weren’t such a time suck, it would be comical to watch a time lapse video showing the staff scurrying from meeting to meeting throughout the day.

Federal Meeting

Meetings are often considered the bane of an employee’s existence. It’s not uncommon for people to spend 35-50% or more of their day in meetings across the company. For some, it’s even worse. I recently spoke with a Senior Category Manager at one of our clothing vendors, who told me that on an average day he’s scheduled for up to 14 meetings. He never attends them all, and often comes and goes after they start and before they finish. Otherwise, he’d never make the next meeting, and never have time to actually work.

Here is the ugly truth according to research curated and written about by Scott Dockweiler on The Muse:

  • There are estimated to be 25 million meetings, per day, in the United States alone.
  • Approximately $37 Billion per year is spent on unproductive meetings.
  • 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings (this has gone UP every year since 2008).
  • People spend 4 hours per week preparing for status update meetings.
  • Most meetings are unproductive and executives consider more than 67% of meetings to be failures.
    • Most common reason meetings are unproductive – Multitasking
    • Another reason – Lack of planning and structure

Obviously, meetings are a big time suck much of the time, with no real benefit. So how can we make them better? Here are some tips:

  • Have a pre-planned agenda that is communicated to everyone attending. Stick to it.
  • Schedule shorter meetings – very little can’t be resolved in 15-30 minutes if proper planning and communication take place ahead of time.
  • Stop multitasking! You should never be working on something else in a meeting. It’s rude, disrespectful, and if the meeting isn’t relevant enough for you to be engaged, don’t come or fix the agenda so it is. Consider the example you are setting for others when you multitask: it says is that you don’t care enough to pay attention, and your work is more important than the people around the table.
  • Stay focused – move tangential topics that aren’t on the agenda to another discussion or email.
  • Start and end on time – just like when we were in school, if a meeting is scheduled at 9, be in your seats 3 minutes early so it can START at 9. Don’t be rude and waste other people’s time  and show up 5 minutes late. The same goes for ending the meeting. This isn’t a social gathering – it’s a business engagement.
  • Finish by reviewing identified action items, assigning responsibility for them, and clearly identifying follow-up.

Dockweiler suggested three great questions to ask before you schedule your next meeting:

  1. Is a meeting NECESSARY? Explore options requiring less time from co-workers.
  2. Who really NEEDS TO BE THERE? Be clear about required vs. optional participants. Also, don’t invite the whole world. Smaller groups accomplish tasks faster.
  3. What can you do to ensure it is focused and interactive. Come up with a clear AGENDA, SEND MATERIALS in advance, and capture action items.

If you only take two things away from this short article, it should be these: 1. Publish and stick to an agenda for every meeting; and 2. Stop multitasking.

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