Meetings… How often do you feel you’re in a meeting that’s wasting your time, and that of those around you? How much more could you get done without them?
Do you wish there were days that were completely meeting-free so you can focus?
Research from 2019 put a cost to business of ineffective meetings in the US alone at $399 billion a year, and a further $58 billion in the UK, based on a survey of 6500 people and observation of 19 million meetings. It will almost certainly be even more today thanks to the ‘Zoom phenomenon’ of inviting more people to more meetings more often.
As author Dave Barry said, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’ “
Or, as an unknown wag put it, “A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept, and the hours are lost.”
Having said this, we simply cannot run a business without meetings – any more than we can run one without customers.
Meetings, while often necessary, typically involve too many people (most are invited to “keep them in the loop”), take too long (due to lack of proper agenda and meeting protocol), and there are too many meetings overall with most being for information maintenance purposes.
Being interrupted in one’s tasks by a meeting is also costly – it takes between 20 and 25 minutes to get back to where you were after an interruption, meaning a 1-hour meeting really costs about 1 ½ hours in lost productivity.
So how do we achieve a balance, improve productivity and engagement at work, while continuing to build and grow a healthy business?
The key, as with so much in life, is focus.
Start with a meeting audit.
Look at your meetings, and those of your colleagues to determine which ones are really necessary and which are not. Meetings should primarily be called to discuss issues and either reach a decision or define clear actions. Most information-update meetings can be replaced by email or other e-messaging platforms.
Next, look at process.
Determine how many people need to be at the meetings that are necessary – keep attendance to those actually involved in the decision-making output from the meeting, and establish a protocol of circulating notes / minutes of the meeting to the others (those who need to be informed of what happened).
Ensure proper preparation for all meetings by circulating ahead of the meeting the purpose and expected outcome of the meeting, any documents / links to be discussed, and a clear agenda.
Have the chair of the meeting conduct it properly, keeping to both the agenda and the time allocated, and allowing a few minutes at the end for a wrap-up / summary so that everyone present is clear on the outcome. Minutes / notes of every meeting must be taken with decisions and actions arising clearly stated for follow-up purposes.
And, rather than defaulting meetings to 30 or 60 minutes, which can waste time (if it’s allocated it will be used), try setting the length of the meeting to a shorter, non-standard length (say, 20 or 40 minutes).
Understanding the effect of interruptions on work, rather define blocks of time for meetings, and others for task-focused work, than allowing them to be set up for any time during the day.
Better still, have one or two ‘No-Meeting Days’ each week, to allow the team to be fully focused on their tasks for a whole day at a time.
In fact, the practice of No-Meeting / Meeting-Free days is gaining traction around the world and proving to give a real productivity boost. Facebook (Meta), Shopify, Asana, Atlassian and others have all embraced it successfully, and analysis shows that employee productivity increased by more than 70% when meetings were reduced by 40%.
So, how do you implement a Meeting-Free Day policy, and what is the optimum number of such days?
The first step is to connect properly with your team to describe the issue and what you’re looking to achieve. Explain that No-Meeting Days are to enable them to focus better on their primary tasks without interruption, and that there are asynchronous tools available (email, WhatsApp, Slack, etc.) for them to both solicit and receive information on such days. It’s about allowing people to focus and concentrate.
Encourage feedback as there might well be some reluctance, especially from those who are customer-facing or working on complex projects. It may be that some departments within the company cannot implement Meeting-Free Days, especially the customer-facing ones handling sales or customer support. To enable them to focus better and be more productive, consider implementing a system where they have defined 3-4 hour blocks of focus time without meetings several days a week, perhaps starting with just two such blocks.
Put in place the systems necessary to support meeting-free days or blocks of time – company-wide calendar systems, proper meeting procedures for all future ones (preparation and agenda, attendee invites, meeting length, minutes, etc.).
Start with a single Meeting-Free Day a week – some companies choose Wednesdays, other go for Fridays. Whichever day best suits your company rhythm, the rules for these days need to be clear.
Many companies find that a single Meeting-Free Day is best for them, others expand this to two, and a few to three, but beyond that the benefits wane, which is why starting with one day is best.
Use the calendar system to block the day (or parts of a day for those who cannot give up a full day) for all staff, so they cannot have meetings set – with the leadership team abiding by the same rules of a full No-Meeting Day and keeping to it. But also be clear that No-Meeting Days does not mean no communication days – people can, and often need to, still talk to each other, but this would be spontaneous, not scheduled.
Encourage ongoing feedback on the new system and how people feel about their ability to get their work done and the company culture change, together with any suggestions for improvement.
So, what are the benefits to your business of better meeting hygiene and meeting-free days?
- Greater productivity – studies show this is 70%+ where meetings are reduced by 40%.
- Higher engagement – employees, on average, feel that they waste 2-5 hours per day in meetings that are of no benefit to them, so ensuring proper meeting attendance, length and protocol removes this sense of time wasted.
- More accountability – a regimen of circulating minutes containing clear decisions and actions removes misunderstanding, encourages proper follow-through, and gives an overall rise in accountability for all.
- Better leadership – middle managers spend an average of 35% of their time in meetings, and senior leaders 50%. Ensuring they only attend specific meetings, and shorter ones, will free them up to better work on the business, rather than just in it.
- Reduced stress and burnout – with everyone having more time to focus on their tasks and better able to complete them properly.
It could even assist you with finding the time to implement a 4-day week, too.
Given these benefits and the resulting improvement in corporate culture with all that this brings, what are you doing about your meetings hygiene?
I work with successful owner-led businesses to enhance their growth, profitability, cash flow and business value.
If you’d like to have a conversation about your business, its culture and team dynamics, or any other business challenges or concerns, book a free 30-minute call with me here. I’d be delighted to talk with you.
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