People at unproductive meeting

Unproductive meetings: how much they cost and how to fix them

It’s almost inevitable. At some point in our professional life, we’ve been in pointless, monotonous, and unproductive meetings.  

We’ve all experienced it. Sadly, this type of meeting still happens more regularly than we would like to, only to monopolize our day and demotivate us. 

We all know that meetings are not supposed to be that. They’re supposed to get people together to discuss problems and come up with new ideas and solutions.

Meetings also serve as a way to create deeper connections. They can help create deeper connections and improve relationships with colleagues.

Generally, the biggest problem in meetings is not their length or the people attending them.

The fundamental issue is people’s lack of respect for each other’s time. And that’s something that unfortunately we’ll never be able to get back. Time. And without time, we can’t focus on our goals. 

Valuing employees’ time is one of the most important things a manager can do. Allowing them to spend time on their tasks will make them feel respected and valued. 

This will make a bigger impact on the business – allowing employees to work harder on their goals. 

Unproductive meetings cost: the numbers you need to know

Meetings are one of the biggest time wasters at work. And, pointless meetings take a huge toll on your business financially. Here’s an example so you can understand the math.

According to Insider, there are about 11 million meetings taking place in America every day, and a third of them are unproductive.  

And, guess what? It comes at a cost: an estimated $37 billion is lost every year to unproductive meetings. How crazy is that?

If you can’t see that time is money, let’s just think about this. If you have an unproductive meeting with 7 employees and the meeting takes 1 hour, you’re not wasting 1 hour. You’re wasting 7 hours of work! 

But then, why do we keep attending if most of them just end up being a flat-out waste of time and money? 

Let’s find out what makes meetings unproductive. 

What makes meetings unproductive?

There are many reasons that make meetings unproductive and generally a massive waste of time. Here’s our list of the top 5:

1. Multitasking

Are people checking their emails or catching up on other, non-related work during your meeting? The answer is, most of the time, yes. 

If you feel like that meeting is an enormous time waster for you, you’ll end up doing other things instead of paying attention to what is happening in that meeting.

And, let us tell you something: multitasking might be the reason why you’re feeling unproductive.

2. Too many people 

How often have you been in a meeting that wasn’t for you and had nothing to do with your work? A lot of team members don’t even speak up during meetings because they simply don’t belong there. 

Most people want to discuss things that affect their work directly. So, if you’re the one evoking the meeting, take the time to consider if the issue affects the people you’re inviting.

Team meeting with a remote person

3. Remote people feel left out

With hybrid work, this has quickly become an issue. When you’re in a meeting where half of the people are remote, please don’t forget they’re there. Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges for remote workers.

For team members participating remotely, staying focused and engaged can be even more challenging. Therefore, try to keep the meeting flowing and try to involve everyone in the conversation.

4. Lack of structure, planning, and time management

We can all agree that most of the meetings we attend lack structure and planning. It’s more common for us to go to meetings that we know nothing about than the ones we know. 

To keep it quick and straight to the point, make sure you prepare an agenda for the meeting. Make sure it’s clear to everyone what is the main goal for the meeting, what you are trying to accomplish, and stick to the plan.

Also, ensure that each topic of discussion has a slot on the agenda. Don’t waste too much time on certain topics and leave others unattended. 

5. Status updates 

“What have you done since our last meeting? Who did you talk to? What are the updates?” These types of questions are a big no in meetings.

If most of your meeting time is spent discussing things that have already happened, then it’s not productive. 

According to Forbes, “Businesses spend too much time looking at meetings as a way to share historical information. This means that businesses spend insufficient time focused on the future and how others can help produce results. “ 

Focus on new solutions and results and make action plans. This is what meetings should be all about.

people having a work meeting

How to fix unproductive meetings in 7 steps

Now that we know what makes a meeting unproductive, what is the recipe to fix it How can we change this narrative and transform meetings into engines of action?

Find out how to solve unproductive meetings in 7 easy and quick steps.

1. Consider other alternatives

Think of how many times you thought: “This could have been handled via email”? Obviously, not all meetings can be replaced just like that, however, we’re sure some of them can.

This option will allow employees to review only the relevant details and provide feedback when needed.

2. Create an agenda 

Before you have a meeting, consider the purpose, and set clear objectives. Decide before the meeting starts what you want to accomplish. Consider the goals of your meeting ahead of time and write them down. 

Don’t wait until people assemble and start throwing out ideas without a purpose in mind. This will help you stay focused and on track.  

3. Already bring in solutions

Be proactive and already bring in some ideas and solutions yourself!

If you and the other attendees come up with a set number of solutions beforehand, your meeting will be a lot more productive because people will come in knowing what to expect. 

This will allow you to see all your options and choose the best one. 

4. Only invite the necessary people

When you’re creating your meeting list, you must ask yourself who needs to be in attendance. Meaning, who’s necessary to make decisions and be a part of the process. Who has important insights? 

Most importantly, try not to invite people that don’t need to attend. It’ll help you ensure that your meeting is not a waste of anyone’s time. 

5. Encourage open conversation

Contributing makes people feel good. So, make sure you let people engage in conversation and let them debate about different topics of discussion. Getting input from everyone will keep people involved. 

However, to keep everything organized, allocate time in your agenda for an open discussion period. Keep track of time and make sure one topic doesn’t get more attention than necessary. 

You just want to make sure all team members feel at liberty to speak up when they have something of value to say. 

time management: hour glass

6. Set a specific time to end

Is there anything worse than being in a meeting with no apparent end in mind? So, don’t be that person! 

As you create your agenda and schedule your talking points, determine how long you will discuss each topic and allocate your time accordingly.

You can always use a time tracking app if you need extra help! If you need more tips like about how to end a meeting, read our blog and you’ll find all you need to stand out.

7. End with an action plan

In the last few minutes take some time to discuss the next steps. Write down who’s responsible for carrying out each task and decide on the timeframe. 

This way, nothing is forgotten, and everyone takes some ownership and responsibility. 

Since you’re reading about unproductive meetings, you might be interested in reading about how to lead a meeting.

FAQs

What percentage of meetings are unproductive?

According to the Harvard Business Review, 71% of meetings are unproductive.

Are too many meetings unproductive?

Ineffective and unproductive meetings can negatively impact you psychologically and mentally. In line with the Harvard Business Review, “(…) 92% of employees consider meetings costly and unproductive. Countless online interactions often lead to “Zoom fatigue“ — condition neuropsychologists say is a big contributor to technostress. In short, more meetings don’t help anyone reach their goals.”

Are meetings a waste of time?

Many studies have confirmed that meetings are indeed a waste of time.

Resume

Meetings do not have to be a trap; they can be a tool for change. 

Follow the good practices we mentioned and improve productivity, communication, and integration of the team’s work, as well as job satisfaction and work/life balance. 

You don’t need to use meetings as a way to stay on top of things.

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