My brother is a vice president of a large company. He often tells me he gets anxiety on Sundays because of an incoming Monday of long, byzantine meetings. I asked him once who was responsible for all these work meetings. He answered, “I schedule most of them.” When I asked him why, he dully answered, “Well, it’s just what you’re supposed to do.”
Welcome to corporate America, a parody so accurate of itself you don’t even need movies like Office Space or Working Girl to understand it.
It’s a parody, sure, but the reality is that workplace meetings are often counterproductive (surprise!) and waste inordinate amounts of money. As renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith once quipped, “Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”
Beyond the common wisdom, the statistics on the absolute bleed that are business meetings are so alarming you might never attend your next meeting:
How bad is it, really?
It’s bad. Larry Kim, CEO of Wordstream, presented several studies in an Inc. article to expose the black hole that is the workplace meeting. Here are some of the takeaways:
– Executives spend more than two days a week in meetings (like my brother).
– Organizations spend 15% of their time on meetings, a number that’s increased progressively since 2008.
– Over $25 million is wasted per day on unnecessary meetings, resulting in $37 billion thrown away on meetings that simply aren’t productive.
Before you schedule a meeting on this crisis of meetings, it gets worse. Research from the Harvard Business Review found that one executive meeting from a typical company devoured a dizzying 300,000 hours a year. Yes, that’s a year, by Jove! And yes, a year only has 8,700 hours. How did that happen without a Skynet time machine? Simple: The preparation and collateral (aka more meetings) for a meeting burns additional time from many employees including the executives. Meetings cost time and resources before and after they happen.
Ready for more, as you fall through a dimensional hole and into a Dilbert comic? Okay, here are some more soul-numbing statistics:
– Sixty-three percent of meetings have no planned agenda.
– Most executives attend 62 meetings a month.
– Seventy-three percent of meeting participants admit they do other work during meetings. (This would be multitasking, and our research shows it’s as negative on the mind and business economics as bad workplace meetings).
Before your next meeting is an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting after you binge drink due to this information, the problem with work meetings is being addressed as we speak and your boss is scheduling another meeting.
Yes, give me the solutions to work meetings!
Okay, the problem with meetings has sorta been addressed. As Kim writes in the Inc. article, Jeff Bezos at Amazon.com employs the tactic of not planning a meeting in which two pizzas aren’t enough to feed everyone. Business leaders like Donald Trump and Steve Jobs screamed a lot during meetings; maybe that wasn’t for efficiency, but they kept attendees on schedule and on track.
In between stuffing your mouth with pizza and stuffing your ears cotton balls, well-used technology like Uberconference and iMeet can trim the fat of meetings. On the other hand, companies such as LinkedIn are creating meetings that are more productive by using less technology. In other words, those slide presentations that lull you into a coma or ignite golf fantasies are being ditched—instead offered before or after the meeting. Yes, PowerPoint just ain’t what she used to be.
In the end, what is truly necessary to have productive meetings is a change in thinking and culture.
This transformation is covered in Al Pittampalli’s groundbreaking book Read This Before Your Next Meeting. Pittampalli explains that meetings create a culture of compromise and speculation, which is the anathema to the battleground that ought to be a company’s boardroom. In fact, Pittampalli says, “Like war, meetings are a last resort.”
This attitude of war is key to reforming the workplace meeting. Fighting is a minor part of winning a war. Preparation and decision-making are the major elements of winning a war. A meeting should be first and foremost about making decisions. By the time participants sit in a meeting, they all should have all the pertinent information necessary. It’s really up to the “generals” attending to make decisions, based on that information, which will move the company forward. It’s as simple as that, and Jobs and Trump would agree.
Pittampalli outlines seven principles for a successful meeting:
1. Supports a decision that has already been made
2. Moves fast and ends on schedule
3. Limits the number of attendees (only two pizzas!)
4. Rejects the unprepared
5. Produces committed action plans
6. Refuses to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory
7. Works only alongside a culture of brainstorming
Good meetings are indeed wars. All good wars are won before the first shot. Good generals make quick decisions as soon as they have all the available data. If the war motif is too much for you, then maybe you don’t belong in a competitive business society. Just sayin’.
Other suggestions from Pittampalli include having everyone walk around even if they’re not speaking, allowing people to come and go, and giving everyone a bloody time limit. Brainstorming and conversations have their places, but never at a workplace meeting.
In the end, an executive makes an unpopular decision is nothing more than a leader, and leaders are rare in workplace meetings.
Today, too many executives are more like politicians. That is tantamount to kicking the can down the proverbial road, and we’re back to wasting those 300,000 hours a year.
Instead, kick that bad addiction that is bad meetings.
This article or anyone cited doesn’t make a case for vanquishing workplace meetings altogether. Meetings matter. As Pittampalli says in his book:
We work in a business of complex problems. Meetings were the invention created to provide the needed coordination. We need meetings to ensure that intelligent decisions are made and to confirm that our teams are interacting effectively on complex projects.
What we don’t need, though, are standard meetings, the mediocre meetings and the meetings that actually and actively cripple our organization.
Furthermore, it was famed economist Peter F. Drucker who said, “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.”
In summary, efficient meetings should rest upon these four cornerstones:
1. Meetings are only about decisions. In fact, their sole existence is to foster decisions.
2. The same fervor, urgency and agility we manifest in our jobs should manifest in meetings. Let’s go to war.
3. Meetings shouldn’t take time, but more like destroy time.
4. Mix it, shake it up, try something weird at meetings. At least a decision will come about from this, and that’s already a good meeting.
These type of changes are not easy. A culture of compromise just seems sooo sensible, but radical change is certainly necessary for any company that wishes to fully be a member of this age of information…including my brother’s.
As a bonus, please check out this infographic. Multitasking is also another work-destroyer: