Unproductive Meetings and How to Beat Them
Thursday, May 18, 2023 - Prophit Co.
We’ve all been there – those meetings where many minutes, sometimes hours of time are effectively wasted away because of poor communication, confusion, or excessive side-tracking. It feels deflating. You may have entered the meeting hoping to come out of it with a useful conclusion, a plan of action, or clarity on a particular issue, and left with none of those. On top of that, you have to adjust your schedule to power through the rest of your daily workload with less time and no more direction than before.
Nobody goes into a meeting with the intent of derailing it or minimizing its usefulness, most people try their best to contribute to forwarding the discussion. And yet, these botched meetings still happen, and frequently. In fact, research conducted in 2023 by Zippia suggests that 71% of meetings, representing an average of 31 employee hours per month, are considered unproductive (Flynn). These unproductive meetings are not only wasteful, but also especially costly. Zippia reported that they lose organizations an estimated $37 billion dollars annually (Flynn).
It’s clear that these meetings are tangibly and quantifiably detrimental to every party involved with them. With employees losing over 1 hour per day and businesses losing a total of $3 billion per month to them, it’s prudent to take some action steps to make sure they happen less frequently. In an article posted to Harvard Business Review, author and executive communications expert Joel Schwartzberg offers a series of tips to consider that will help you build more effective meetings. Here are a few:
- Establish a purpose
If you’re leading a meeting, establishing a purpose beforehand is good practice to ensure that the conversation stays relevant and on track to achieve a goal. Avoid vague or broad language – you’ll want to be very clear and precise with what exactly you want the meeting to achieve.
- Keep others on point
Be sure to help everyone in the meeting stay on track and keep the discussion relevant to the subject at hand. When you notice that participants are side tracking, focusing too hard on a small part of what’s being discussed, or are presenting ideas without clear points, don’t be hesitant to cordially bring them back on track by asking a guiding question and/or reminding them of the meeting’s purpose.
- End with a meaningful action step
Ensure that everyone leaves the meeting with clarity on the next steps to be taken and who is assigned to complete them before the next gathering. This allows everyone to leave the meeting with greater clarity on what’s happening and what their role is, even if it’s small.
Overall, there is a lot of incentive for leaders to make their meetings more efficient. Because of the sheer financial and time costs involved for organizations and their employees, reducing the number of unproductive meetings in as many areas as possible should be high on the list of priorities for any leader.
Flynn, Jack (2023). “28+ Incredible Meeting Statistics : Virtual, Zoom. In-Person Meetings and Productivity” [Article]. 14 February 2023. Zippia. https://www.zippia.com/advice/meeting-statistics/ [Accessed April 10, 2023]
Schwartzberg, Joel (2023). “10 Tactics to Keep Your Meeting on Track” [Article]. 5 January 2022. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/01/10-tactics-to-keep-your-meeting-on-track [Accessed April 10, 2023]