When Meetings Waste Your Time


Last week, I sat in on an executive team meeting. I was so bored! Interestingly, I was the only person in the room for whom most of the discussion was brand new.
Why was I so bored? Because nothing really happened—for two hours! Sure, there was a lot of talking, a lot of papers passed around, and a few Powerpoint slides thrown up on the wall. But, if you had asked me as I walked out at the end of the meeting, “What just happened here?” I would have told you, “I’m not sure.”
These sorts of meetings happen every day. No wonder Patrick Lencioni titled his book, Death By Meeting: A Leadership Fable . . . About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business.

Leaders cause or allow bad meetings to happen.
And effective leaders can fix them!

Remember when I wrote last month of leaders complaining they are so busy? The next thing they often say is, “I’m just in meetings all the time.” Check out the statistics on meetings from this TED talk:

  • Organizations hold more than 3 billion meetings each year
  • Executives spend 40-50% of their working hours in meetings — 23 hours a week
  • 9 out of 10 attendees admit to daydreaming in meetings
  • 73% acknowledge they do other work during meetings
  • 25% of meetings are spent discussing irrelevant issues
  • 3 out of 4 people have received no formal training on how to conduct a meeting

“Meeting Hell” is a form of Busyness where you spend lots of time in meetings – without getting much done. And it isn’t just your time that is wasted. If you convene a one-hour meeting with nine other people, and you waste the time, you’ve wasted ten hours of company time.
Alternatively, when you prepare and lead a meeting well, you exponentially maximize the ROI for your organization. Imagine the time you could free up for everyone if you:

Turn a 2-hour meeting into a 90-minute meeting.
Reduce a 60-minute meeting to 50 minutes.

If you are part of the 75% who have never received formal training in leading a meeting, consider these pointers:
First, prepare well for the meeting.

  • Be very clear about your purpose(s) in advance – is it to inform others, or to get their help solving a problem?
  • For each invitee, be able to easily answer, “Why does this person need to be present?”
  • Prepare an agenda. For repeating weekly meetings, re-evaluate your agenda periodically to be sure it stays relevant. Consider distributing the agenda in advance so attendees can do their own preparation.

Then, lead the meeting.
Is your PURPOSE to share information?

  • Then BLUF it (Bottom Line Up Front). Give a concise summary. Share back-up information as warranted. Ask others if they need more background.
  • Example opening: “My purpose for gathering is to share three market updates and tell you about one new initiative IT is bringing online next month.”

Is your PURPOSE to get help in solving a problem?

  • Again, BLUF it. State the problem or question up front.
  • Moderate the discussion. Summarize what you hear. Did you get what you wanted? Tell the group your next steps.
  • Example conclusion: “Okay, great discussion on third quarter recruitment needs for Florida. I will get approval to hire two more full-time staff.  Andrew, you work on creating the new job descriptions.  Diana, you’re going to draft a strategy to boost our pipeline of candidates. Let’s reconnect next Wednesday to update one another on progress.”

Don’t have time to prepare, you say? If you start spending less time in meetings, including the ones you run, you will!
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, who died last year, is remembered for his sharp insights on what makes a business succeed. He once wrote, “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment, you should not let anyone walk away with the time of his fellow managers.”

Become known as a leader who prepares and leads meetings well.