Most meetings are a waste of time – but they don’t have to be

Off to a meeting. Late for a meeting. Stuck in a meeting. Minutes of a meeting. Our working lives are ruled by meetings: one after another, day after day, calendars and schedules and agendas all filled to the brim with times and dates of meetings.

This is perfectly normal, of course. In the working world, meetings make things happen; they get the ball rolling and then they track that ball as it bounces and bumps along. Meetings lead to more meetings, in other words, and that’s the way it always will be, until the very last pot of horrible canteen coffee has been plunged and poured.

Not every meeting is vital, though, and not every minute of every meeting is time well spent. Far from it. We’ve all sat through the never-ending Powerpoint punishment, discreetly checking the time, wondering what we’re doing there and despairing as the minutes crawl by, never to return. A lot of time spent in meetings, unfortunately, is wasted time.

How much time are we wasting in meetings? Well, let’s see. How much of your time was wasted in meetings this week? If you estimate 30 minutes, you’re probably about right.

We’ve been working with our client Viking, the leading office supplier, on some research which found that a whopping 70% of Irish office workers feel that most team meetings are not productive.

A further 50% of workers say that up to 30 minutes of every team meeting is a complete waste of time which means, given that the research also found that most weekly meetings last for between 30 and 60 minutes, that the average worker wastes around two hours each month in unproductive meetings.

Tell me something I don’t know, you may be thinking.

The Viking research also found that most companies (50%) schedule team/internal meetings once a month; 29% arrange meetings once a week; 14% of companies have twice-weekly meetings while 7% of companies have two or even three team meetings every week.

Why are we wasting our time here? What is the problem? “The problem is when meetings go on too long, when the agenda spirals out of control or when people lose focus of what they are there to discuss,” says Viking Ireland chief, Michael Walby. “That’s when precious time gets wasted and it can be a problem, especially for smaller companies with fewer resources.

“However, it’s easy to ensure meetings are short, sharp and productive if the person organising or leading the meeting implements a few simple tips such as setting a time limit and keeping the agenda very focussed,” Mr Walby says. “The less time wasted in meetings, the better for the company – and the happier everyone will be.”

Indeed, and on that note here are Viking’s 8 top tips for a productive meeting:

  • Keep the agenda tight and stick to it – deal with additional topics separately
  • Ensure the agenda is circulated in advance so everyone can come prepared
  • Start on time and finish on time – if people know the meeting will run for exactly 30 or 45 minutes, they are far more likely to stay focussed
  • Ban all technology – ask everyone to please turn off their mobile phones and any other devices. No distractions!
  • Only invite people who are essential for the meeting
  • Encourage everyone to contribute, but not just for the sake of it – if people feel they have to say something, it can lead to unnecessary waffle
  • Try a change of scenery – sometimes a new location (a different meeting room, the staff canteen, an outside café) can stimulate fresh thoughts
  • Always follow up with a prompt email highlighting the main actions and responsibilities for the next meeting

Cullen Communications handles PR for Viking Ireland

(Image via babblingengineer.com)