High angle view of business executives in a meeting

By Rick Delgado

Meetings. The very mention of them is enough to make most people groan in annoyance. Meetings seems to happen all the time and always seem to waste precious hours where you could be getting a lot of work done. There’s a good reason meetings have gotten such a bad reputation, and there have actually been studies to prove it. One recent survey actually found that a majority of employees (51 percent) say they have forgotten what the whole point of a meeting was while they were in the middle of it. And if you think it’s better for executives, you’d be mistaken — 64 percent of them admit to forgetting the purpose for a meeting as well. It’s not a pretty picture, especially for businesses that want to make their workplaces more efficient. Not all meetings are pointless timewasters, of course, but if you want to create a workplace that gets more things done, you may have to consider canceling a large portion of your meetings.

Figuring out which meetings aren’t worth the organization’s time, however, is far from easy. Most of it comes down to what you hope to accomplish in a meeting. Far too often, business leaders look at meetings as a time to get everyone together and go over things everyone already agrees with. These are sometimes referred to as cheerleading meetings, an opportunity to rouse the troops and motivate employees. That may be admirable in its own way, but is a meeting really the best way to do it? You end up taking an hour or two of their time when they would be off getting more work done. If there’s no back-and-forth discussion, disagreements, or even debates, gathering everyone in a single room for it ends up wasting a lot of time.

This speaks to another purpose for meetings that is often overlooked: collaboration. There’s a reason you’ve brought everyone into the same room. It’s not to pass on a few notes from management since that can be managed perfectly fine in an email. It’s to bring minds together, bounce ideas off of each other, and discuss the best ways to tackle a problem or reach a goal. If a meeting is simply someone standing at the head of the table and giving a lecture, chances are it doesn’t need to be handled with a meeting.

As always, having a good plan in mind can make any strategy more successful. If you’re going into a meeting not really knowing why the meeting is being held in the first place, that’s a problem. Every meeting needs to have a goal, some sort of endpoint that you want to reach in a certain amount of time. With no goal, meetings can wander and get off track, leading to everyone leaving the meeting wondering what they just spent all that time doing. Meetings that are scheduled at regular intervals (like weekly meetings) tend to lose focus after a while, and people can quickly forget what the goal is. Establish a goal before every meeting and set up an agenda that will help you reach it. If you know the goal, then you’ll know when the meeting will conclude. If you can’t sum up your goal in a simple sentence, you’ll need to get more specific.

Whether you’re running a retail business, financial firm, or backup solutions business, you probably won’t be able to get rid of all your meetings, but you can definitely work on the timing. Take early morning meetings, for example. Meetings scheduled for such an early hour can be extremely unproductive. Many employees simply aren’t early morning people, and often it’s hard to hit the ground running each morning. That makes early morning meetings meandering affairs where often only half of the people attending even participate while the other half are still trying to wake up. Rescheduling or even canceling the meeting altogether can lead to much better results. The same goes for meetings scheduled at the end of the workday, where people are anxious to get home and might not pay as much attention.

Meetings are often looked at as a necessary evil in the business world, but they don’t have to be. It’s time to reevaluate your meetings and determine which ones can stay, which ones need to change, and which ones can be canceled. Doing this helps to promote a more productive and efficient workplace while also leading to happier employees.

Rick Delgado is a technology commentator and writer. Follow him @ricknotdelgado.