Meetings. Plain and simple.

According to the Ayers report , vol 1, issue 11 (, 25 million meetings take place daily in corporate America and around half that time is wasted.  Given that the UK population is 20% of the US population, that probably means that 5 million meetings take place in the UK each day.

If the average meeting is, say, one hour, that’s 12.5 million hours of wasted time in the US and 2.5 million hours of wasted time in the UK.

It has been said that, in the UK, you could take your annual salary, add £8,000, strike off the last three figures and divide by two to determine the hourly cost to your employer of employing you.  You can probably work out a similar formula for your own country.

So, if you earn £20,000 p.a., you cost your company £14 an hour just to turn up each day.  Assuming that your colleagues earn around the same as you, multiply half the length of a meeting in hours by the number of people there by £14 and that’s how much time you just wasted.

The figures may be open to question, but the fact that we waste an inordinate amount of time in meetings isn’t.  In many of my training courses I ask delegates what is the biggest waste of time in their working life and they say “meetings”.  When I ask what they do to change the way they conduct meetings, they blush and shuffle their paperwork.  So although they realise that they are wasting huge amounts of time in meetings, they continue to institutionalise the very behaviours which they condemn.

Here are some ideas to make your meetings more effective:

  1. Ensure that every meeting has a purpose.  If that purpose, traditionally, has been to share information, then think about other channels you could use.  Often I hear complaints that if we distribute information by e-mail or put it on Lotus notes, nobody reads it.  That’s a different issue.  Think again about the relevance of the information to its target audience, the frequency of communication, the level of interactivity in the communication, the complexity, the style in which it’s written and the level of “push” and “pull” in the communication.  If you truly believe that the information is important and nobody is reading it, then you have a management issue.  What you don’t have is a meeting issue.  Information passing can be achieved through many better means than meetings
  2. Gauge the responses of regular participants to regular meetings.  If they lack energy, arrive late, make excuses not to come, then you need to do something to enliven them or cancel the meetings.  Don’t blame the participants – the meetings in their present form simply don’t work.
  3. Cancel the regular meeting. If you have a Monday meeting every week, it’s probably because you’ve always had a Monday meeting every week.  Try abandoning it for a couple of weeks and see if it makes a difference to anyone.  Shift it to different days each week.
  4. Rotate the chairmanship.  Let each person who regularly attends your meetings (if you insist on a regular meeting) chair the meeting.  This tends to bring a fresh perspective to the meeting and each meeting feels different and new – as a result, it becomes more purposeful
  5. Make sure the meetings are chaired properly and appropriately.  A good Chair draws out quiet people who look like they have an interesting contribution to make and limits the length of contribution from the more vocal people.  In a meeting, everyone’s equal except the chairman.  If the chairman is the bombastic, noisy one, make representations to remove or change the chairman (or rotate the chairmanship, as above).
  6. Don’t ever allow AOB on the agenda.  Meetings should have a purpose.  Any other business is not purposeful.  If participants haven’t told the chair in advance what they want on the agenda, then their topics don’t belong on the agenda.  AOB is usually a chance for those with their own ‘hobbyhorses’ to hijack the meeting and talk about things which are not relevant to the theme of the meeting
  7.  Stick to your agenda.
  8. If some of the meeting is irrelevant to some of the participants, just invite them to the relevant parts.  (This will only work well if you are all in the same premises. )  Call them as you are approaching the topics to which they can contribute
  9. Prepare people for the meeting.  Let them know what’s expected of them, what they need to read or prepare and how long you expect them to speak on their own topics.
  10. Ring round before a meeting to check that everyone who says they are going to come really will come.  If key people can’t make it, cancel the meeting and let everyone know the reason.
  11. Only invite people with something to contribute.  If certain people don’t contribute to the meeting, don’t invite them again.  Don’t ever invite people simply for fear of offending them.  If they ask why they haven’t been invited to a meeting, ask them what they consider their contribution to be.  If it’s simply to be informed, tell them you’ll send the action points later.
  12. Be prepared to introduce new people to a regular meeting (if you insist on having a regular meeting – see point 3, above).  New people bring fresh blood and ideas and break the rituals which dog your regular meetings.
  13. Dispense with minutes and produce action points.  One of the jobs of a good meeting secretary or chairman is to chase people after the event (or before the next meeting) is to check on people’s progress in taking action.
  14. Check with people before a meeting whether or not they have prepared the appropriate topics.  If they haven’t, cancel the invitation or tell them that they won’t be needed on this occasion.
  15. Try holding your meetings standing up.  They’ll tend to be very focused and purposeful.
  16. Find out from your regular meeting-goers what would improve the meetings.  If the ideas seem reasonable, implement them
  17. Make your meetings as green as possible.  Don’t ask anyone to travel if they can join the meeting via an audio or video link.   Travelling time is wasted time, it’s not green and it’s unproductive.

Finally, imagine that it’s your money being spent on the meeting.  Would you choose to spend it this way?  Would you allow such a waste of time and money? What would you do to make your meetings work?

We work all over the world providing management and leadership development. We’d love to hear from you.

To discuss behavioural skills training, any other aspect of leadership and management development or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.