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September 13, 2019

Meetings Are Usually Unproductive. Here's Why and How to Fix Them.

Why So Many Meetings Are Unproductive

Meetings are a mainstay for most businesses, serving as an opportunity to catch employees up on the latest policy changes, brainstorm solutions to a problem, or report on the progress of a campaign. But while intended to move forward, toward the company’s bottom-line goals, most meetings end up being unproductive, in one way or another.

This isn’t some trivial annoyance, either. It’s estimated that pointless meetings will cost employers in the United States more than $399 billion in 2019. So why are so many meetings unproductive, and what can you do about them?

Problem: Poor Communication Mediums

The first problem is choosing a poor communication medium for the meeting, or depending on unreliable technology. In most cases, if the matter is important enough to warrant a meeting, the best medium is meeting face-to-face. Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to shell out some exorbitant corporate relocation costs, you’ll need to meet remotely at least occasionally.

For these purposes, your best bet is to invest in good teleconferencing technology. You’ll need a party line that’s clear, stable, low-latency, and most importantly, secure for all attendees. It may cost a bit of money upfront, but it’s going to make all your meetings much smoother.

Problem: Irrelevant or Excessive Attendees

A major problem with meetings is the number of attendees who don’t really need to be there. If a meeting is a waste of time, that waste of time is multiplied by the number of attendees, and if there are too many irrelevant parties there, conversation can be counterproductive.

The solution is to reduce your number of meeting attendees to the bare minimum. Instead of clicking multiple names to add to the meeting invite, boil down the most important parties for your given issue, and only send the invite to them.

Problem: “This Could Have Been an Email”

In the modern world, we have access to astoundingly efficient forms of communication—most notably, email. It might take some time to draft the content of an email, but it’s sent instantaneously, and can be read by the relevant parties when it’s convenient for them. If a meeting can be replaced by an email, it probably should be.

Obviously, not every meeting can be substituted with an email. Some matters do require open discussion or verbal confirmation that the contents have been understood. The trick is to understand which meetings belong to this category, and which meetings can be quickly and easily summarized with a written memo.

Problem: Tangents and Distractions

Meetings, especially those with many attendees, tend to be rife with tangents and distractions. A meeting attendee may be reminded of a similar matter, or something important they need to ask one of their colleagues. Before you know it, the entire meeting unravels into side conversations, irrelevant details, and meandering topics.

The best way to avoid this problem is with a clear and focused agenda. Designate a point person to take responsibility for leading the meeting, and have that person come up with a point-by-point timeline for the meeting. If the conversations start to drift from the main point, have the leader bring the conversation back to its primary course.

Problem: Parkinson’s Law and Time Swell

Parkinson’s Law is an informal rule that suggests that the amount of time it takes to do something tends to expand, based on the amount of time allotted to do it. How does this relate to meetings? Essentially, if you schedule a meeting to last an hour, it’s going to take an hour, or possibly even longer—even if it could have been handled in a much shorter timeframe.

If you want to get down to business and challenge yourself to be as efficient as possible, it’s much better to schedule short meetings, for durations of 15 or 30 minutes. You’ll be surprised how much ground you can cover in these truncated timeslots.

Problem: Meeting Obsession

There’s also an implicit problem with a meeting-obsessed culture in most organizations. People are inclined to schedule meetings for every piece of information they have to share, and have multiple standing meetings with clients and employees every week. In other words, they have meetings for the sake of having meetings.

It’s very difficult to overcome this mentality, especially in a conservative or traditional work environment. However, it can be overcome by reducing the number of recurring meetings, and by educating typical meeting attendees about meeting best practices.

There’s nothing inherently unproductive about meetings. In fact, they can be incredibly productive tools when used effectively. The problem is, too many managers and meeting organizers fail to take the steps necessary to make them productive. Employ these strategies, and your meetings will skyrocket in terms of efficiency.

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