How 3 Billion Meetings Per Year Waste Time, Money and Productivity in the Enterprise

|   Aug 10, 2010

Meetings are often a waste of time in the Enterprise. Every employee has sat in countless meetings that drone on – meetings where you’re not really needed, meetings about mundane details of the business, even meetings to plan for future meetings. With an estimated 11 million formal meetings per day in the United States, corporate America has been held hostage by 3 billion meetings per year. It’s not that every meeting is a waste of time, or useless, but rather that meetings are overused and often unnecessary when there are tools like social software that can be used to collaborate instead.

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At its core, a meeting is a gathering of people designed to allow collaboration on a specific topic. Webster’s defines a meeting as “an act or process of coming together.” However, this simple definition doesn’t capture the intricacies and expectations of meetings in the enterprise. Like email, people are “cc’d” into meetings when they don’t really need to be present. According to a Microsoft survey, employees globally spend an average of 5.6 hours a week in meetings. 69 percent of participants feel that these meetings are unproductive and unnecessary. Not only is the mental cost of these meetings high, they also affect a company’s bottom line. These weekly 5.6 hours of unproductive time is like giving each employee 12 additional days of paid vacation per year. In fact, Group Vision estimates that Fortune 500 companies waste an estimated $75 million per year in meetings. The numbers clearly make the case that meetings are costly beyond their value.

Holding fewer meetings each week doesn’t seem to be the answer to the challenge. Office Team asked 150 senior executives if they thought company meetings would be more productive if banned one day a week. Only 13 percent of executives surveyed felt with any confidence that meeting productivity could improve if they limited the frequency of meetings. Artificially reducing the opportunities for employees to connect isn’t going to solve the problem; each meeting has its nuances and participant personalities that cannot be reigned in by simply enforcing an arbitrary time limit. Few have read “Robert’s Rules of Order” to understand the way to participate in a meeting. Therefore, the solution is finding alternative ways of disseminating information, collaborating, debating, and sharing ideas outside of the boardroom. Our traditional approach to meetings, like many other traditional business practices, is due for a fundamental change.

There is no definitive answer to this challenge, but there are options that companies can employ based on their culture and communication needs. One option is a private social network used for asynchronous communication and collaboration, which gives the benefit of discussion without stealing everyone’s time all at once. A second option is more formal meeting training and a technology “blackout” for companies who do determine that meetings are required; more structure and fewer interrupting cell phone calls may create a more conducive environment for productivity. Dozens and dozens of additional options exist. However, it is clear that meetings are not going away, but in their current state they cannot continue.

What is the answer at your company? How are you handling unproductive meetings? Are there alternatives, or will meetings have to change to better fit the current, schizophrenic state of technology and communication?

Sources: CIO.COM, GROUPVISION.COM, ALLBUSINESS.COM, SHIRLEYFINELEE.COM, EXAMINER.COM, INC.COM

Comments

  • I want to expand on some of your points, since I initially came away thinking you basically advocate for new media over revisiting the old. I think in reference to “Robert’s Rules of Order” you might call for reading it instead of simply remarking that few people have. I would also argue that the problem with meetings is not that the practice is in need of “a fundamental change”, but rather that many organizations have strayed from the fundamentals which are probably quite helpful if the time is taken to study them. Whether you call meetings or somehow implement social media to collaborate, they are just tools that require some sort of technique to use effectively. Lack of technique is the problem, not meetings or any other tool for that matter. Social media are tools, not a replacement for applied fundamentals. And so ultimately I disagree with the assertion that there is no definitive answer to the challenge; the answer is for individuals to develop technique based on their study & understanding of established protocol like “Robert’s Rules”. And with that pretty much any tool is readily at your disposal with a little informal training & practice. Individuals need to commit to continued learning and organizations need to support & recognize their efforts when they do. Adapting to the “schizophrenic state of technology and communication” is definitely not the answer. Good lord, the inmates will have taken over the asylum if we consider that as a viable option.

    Commented on June 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm
  • The key to successful meetings is simple: ensure that only participants who are stakeholders of the subject (in some form) are present, and create an absolute expectation for curiosity and exploration during the metting toward resolution of an issue or progress toward a goal. An ineffective meeting has little to do with “how” we run them (Roberts rules, etc.), but with our commetment to the outcome.

    In that, each meeting should have a stated “Purpose and Intended Outcome” that participants can rally around. Then each participant should be encouraged (it takes practice and a management willing to foster it) to enter the meeting with intentioanl curiousity toward a new, coolaborative solution or way forward. Even for the most mundane of issues a certain excitment can be created toward finding answers and making decisions when we are challanged with exploration and collaboration for the stated outcome of the meeting.

    It’s no wonder so many of us consider meetings to be a waste of time when the only preparation that most of us engage in is marking our calendar with the meeting date and time . . . and then just show up without any real expectation for the outcome. What if every meeting was considered to be THE tool for “setting a conversational pathway toward alignment and vision”? That sounds a lot more enticing than what most folks consider a meeting to be, and with that thought in mind while commiting to a stated “purpose and intended outcome”, meetings will never waste time. Remember, this is with stakeholders of the issue, not the staffer who merely needs to be made aware. People engaged with real issues, working together for a new and creative way forward is magic. It is up to us to create this kind of atmospheere and way of thinking for participants.

    The book “Accelerate” by Suzanne and Dwight Frindt has been an excellent resource for me along these lines, and has helped my organization hold meetings that are far more productive than in past times.

    Commented on August 3, 2011 at 2:06 pm

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