Too Many Meetings?

“My job feels like one long everlasting meeting…” I recently heard a sarcastic confession from a professional employee. Many of us could relate – we have so many meetings that it feels there is no time to get work done!
The average professional employee in US spends on average 1.7 hours in meetings per day. Not surprisingly, meetings take close to 50% of an executive employees’ time. In any given day more that 11 million meetings occur in the country.* Thus, many of us work in a “meeting rich” environment, yet how productive are the meetings?

In a survey conducted by MCI Conferencing, 91% of the participants admitted to daydreaming in meetings, 37% actually dozed, and 73% brought other work to the meeting.* Many participants report that there is no continuation or accountability in between meetings – employees are brought back to discuss the same issues. In addition of not being productive, meetings can also be costly. An in person meeting of 5 participants that requires travelling may cost above five thousand dollars, taking in consideration salary, air travel, accommodations, and food.*

On the other hand, when utilized effectively, a meeting can be a great workplace tool for information sharing, finding solutions to a problem, and energizing employees. The success of a meeting equally depends on facilitation and preparation. Consider these strategies when preparing and facilitating a meeting:

– Before you schedule a meeting, assess the big picture. What outcome do you desire? What is the best way to arrive to this outcome? Is a meeting the best approach? Do you just want an input from your staff about a problem, or will you try to resolve a problem during a meeting? Utilize meetings for substantive topics, such as problem identification, progress toward quantitative goals, or new ideas for improvement.

– Keep the size to as few people as necessary to accomplish the meeting goal. Research shows that five to eight is the most optimal number of attendees. When a number of participants increase to above ten, the efficiency a meeting begins to decline. In addition of taking more people from their primary duties, the larger number increases unproductive discussion.

– Think critically on who must be present at the meeting. Consider these questions when deciding whom to invite:
Who have information or answers to the questions relating to your meeting objective?
Who are in position(s) to authorize decisions required to move ahead?
Who will represent each of the departments that will be affected by or play a role in the outcome of the meeting?
Who will take notes?
Who will communicate the details of the meeting to others who are not part of the meeting?

– Consider brief one-on-one meetings before the actual meeting. Such meetings can improve the flow and the outcome of the larger meeting, especially when you expect resistance to the issue. Based on feedback received during one-on-one meetings you can polish your agenda. You can also gain more emotional support from those that you meet with.

– Components of the agenda must be specific. Keep an agenda to a single page. Clarify which items on the agenda are discussion points, and which ones are presentation or reports. Send out the agenda a few days before the meeting, and encourage attendees to review it. Assign a time limit to each agenda item.

– Arrive early for a meeting to set up, test the equipment, and make sure that you have all necessary printouts.

– Start meeting right on time, and do not wait for attendees who run late.
Tell the group what you want to accomplish and go over the agenda
Make sure an agenda is visible to all attendees
Explain if attendees should hold questions until certain point.
Assign the timeframe for how long each attendee can hold the floor
Never backtrack to catch up late arrivals

– Assign actions items as you move through the meeting:
Who is responsible for the action item
What needs to be done
When the action item must be completed and any interim timelines
Who is to be notified of progress

– If the questions require specific detailed answers defer them to a one-on-one meeting.

– If an item requires more thinking through, consider designating a small group for discussing an item and bringing recommendations back to the larger group.

– At least 5 minutes before the end of the meeting, review:
Key highlights of presentations and discussions
All action items and to whom they are assigned
Unresolved issues and how they will be addressed
Any follow-up activity, including setting the next meeting

– Distribute the notes within 24 hours

– Check in with employees regularly on how they are progressing with action items, and if they need your support on any barriers that they may encounter.

By taking an organized and purposeful approach to meetings, we increase the value of the meeting for an organization, boost group’s engagement, and avoid involving our employees in another not-so-useful, everlasting meeting.

Verizon Conferencing White Paper, prepared by Infocom, a Division of NFO Worldwide, Inc.
Yager, J. (1999). Creative time management for the New Millenium. Hannacroix Creek Books, Inc.: Stamford, UK
Zeller, D. (2009). Successful time management for dummies. Wiley Publishing, NJ