How to Stop Counterproductive Meetings

By Gabriel Bristol

I am sure that many of you reading this have sat through more than one meeting and thought to yourself, “This is such a waste of my time, I could be doing something more productive!” If this scenario is all too familiar take consolation in the fact that you are not alone. My personal experience in working with executives and middle managers is that at least 30-40 percent of their time is taken up attending mind-numbing meetings.

If you need anymore convincing; Bain and Company, one of the worlds leading management consulting firms, published a study that amongst other things noted executives devote on average more than 16 hours a week to meetings. When you factor in all of the attendees forced into these meetings you are left with the sobering statistic that 15 percent or more of an organizations collective time is spent in meetings—a percentage that has increased every year since 2008. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that U.S. businesses lose $37 billion dollars in unnecessary meetings every year!

Experts agree that excessive meeting schedules grind away at employee morale, dampen employee engagement, and make companies less proactive by bogging down decisions and implementation with the dreaded red tape.

What can we as leaders do to stop counterproductive meetings in their tracks and fire up our employee base while reigniting our corporate culture?

  1. Identify the culprit: One of the quickest and most powerful things you can do to stop meeting creep in its tracks is analyze who is doing the requesting. Take an informal poll of all of the management meetings your company has held over the last 60 days and you may be surprised to learn that only one or two people are responsible for more than 75 percent of a company’s meetings. Having a conversation with this person/people and asking them to engage in less structured conversations will not only free them up to be more productive but free up the rest of your leadership team as well.
  2. Take a hard long look at ourselves: We have to be the change we want to see. Since our employees take their cues from us, are we calling meetings only when necessary? If not, we should start substituting formal meetings for well-crafted emails, simple chat messages, or even good old fashioned, brief, face-to-face informal conversations.
  3. Rattle the cage: Instead of just automatically accepting the next meeting request, consider your return on investment. Will this meeting help you in achieving your goals? Is attending this meeting the best use of your time? If not, rattle the cage by politely declining the meeting request. By declining even politely you may unnerve people at first, but that is ok. If the meeting has value to you and/or your team, attend but challenge its length. Does the team really need 60 minutes to discuss proper communication protocol?

If you resolve to challenge the status quo and simplify your department or your company’s communication style you can increase morale and productivity while making an immediate and sustainable impact to your bottom line.

Gabriel Bristol is president/CEO of Intelicare Direct. Follow him @Gabriel_Bristol.