It’s startling, isn’t it?
Every year, businesses waste $37 billion (yup, billion with a B) on ineffective meetings – and that’s in the United States alone. Multiply that number several times to figure out how much all businesses spend on fruitless meetings.
What’s your share? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
Here’s how to fix wasteful meetings:
Why businesses waste truckloads of money on meetings
There are several reasons why businesses aren’t more actively trying to weed out unnecessary meetings.
First of all, this isn’t necessarily a conscious choice. Since the costs don’t appear as losses and are often tied to indirect costs, they’re hard to spot. Second, our business culture plays a big role. If a senior manager sets up a weekly meeting, junior employees might not feel comfortable questioning that decision.
We also live in a time when we’re required to be available at work at all times. It’s easy to use someone else’s time by setting up a meeting. At the same time, if employees feel they’re not connecting with each other, setting up a meeting can help them fill that void.
Then there are poorly organized meetings. In other words, meetings that lack any meeting objectives and where no one follows up on meeting outcomes. In the end, meeting participants have nothing to show for their wasted time.
And last but certainly not least- bad meeting habits. In fact, the same survey that estimated that meetings waste $37 billion dollars on a yearly basis found that 37% of meetings start late because of latecomers. And factor in things like people who say nothing or too much during meetings, use meeting time to get other work tasks done or keep derailing the meeting. They are all major time stealers.
Fortunately, there are several ways to improve meetings and cut down on the costs. But before we do that, let’s make a guesstimate of how much you waste on meetings.
How much are you wasting on your meetings?
An hour of meeting time can be expensive.
According to a Clarizen/Harris Poll survey from 2014, employees use an average of 4.6 hours preparing for and 4.5 hours attending status meetings every week. That means every employee uses 9.1 hours of their time on status meetings.
Multiply that with their hourly salaries. Then, add on indirect costs, like meeting venue costs and lowered productivity. What does this tell us? You got it: Meetings are anything but affordable.
Obviously, this might or might not be the case for your workplace. But in order to make some estimates, let’s take this figure and assume that those are the only meetings your organization holds. According to Indeed, the average hourly salary for an office worker in the United States is $12.34. We’ll use that number here and to simplify, we’ll only calculate salary costs for meeting participants and leave out any indirect costs.
Examples of meeting salary cost estimates:
- 5 team members – $561.47 per week
- 10 team members – $1122.94 per week
- 20 team members – $2245.88 per week
- 50 team members – $5614.70 per week
There you have the shocking truth. And the cost is probably much higher for your organization when you calculate in all costs that we left out here.
Ineffective meetings seem pretty dumb, no? So what can you do to prevent them from happening? Read on to find out!
What can you do to cut down on unnecessary meetings?
Now that we’ve established just how expensive wasteful meetings are, it’s time to figure out what you can do about them.
The easiest remedy is to create processes for your meetings. You know, guidelines that streamline how your meetings are held.
And what should those guidelines look like? Here you have it:
Define meetings internally
Not everyone defines meetings the same way. Some may see them as the primary communication tool and subsequently, they schedule meetings more often than not. Others might not understand why meetings should be held in the first place.
To ensure everyone’s on the same page, it’s important to start by defining what meetings mean to your organization. This definition can be used whenever a meeting is being planned. Does it match your definition? If yes, the meeting can be held. If no, skip it.
This definition can then be included in your meeting guidelines, which we’ll talk more about further down.
Cut down on the number of meetings you hold
If you want to cut down on meetings, the first thing is to reduce the number of meetings you hold. Makes sense, no?
Obviously, it’s sometimes easier said than done. But by using the definition we just discussed and by agreeing with your team members that the more you cut back on meetings, the better, you’ll get there.
Make meetings as effective as possible
To summarize, effective meetings have a few things in common.
- They have a purpose. Every meeting has a meeting objective, a reason why the meeting is being held. If the objective is vague and purposeless (such as “share information” or “talk about project”), there’s no meeting. Be as specific as you can when formulating your meeting objective- the goal is that every meeting participant understands why there’s a meeting.
- They have an agenda Effective meetings have clear agendas that explain what will be discussed at the meeting. This agenda is then implemented at the meeting. So, if a meeting participant brings up an issue that’s not included in the agenda, a separate meeting can be held for that issue.
- They are short. There’s no room for chit-chatting at effective meetings. Instead, the meeting manager values and respects other people’s time. Meetings are as short as possible (preferably 15-30 minutes). And meetings end on time (the time can be managed with an alarm clock).
- There aren’t many meeting participants. Even if you’re clear on why someone’s in the meeting room, that person might not be on the same page. That’s why it’s important to set expectations and assign roles to meeting participants before the meeting starts. For example, are they there to brainstorm? To give advice? As representatives of a department? By assigning them a role, they can prepare before the meeting. And this will save you a lot of time during the meeting.
- They include action items. Meetings need actionable outcomes. When meeting participants leave the room, they know what’s expected of them.
- Meeting documents are easy to find. All meeting outcomes serve a purpose, so it’s important to store them properly. Make them easy to find by creating meeting files and tags. (Or simplify things and just use Minute.)
- There’s a follow up process.
- And last, effective meetings get results. Ideally, you implement a tried and tested follow up process that makes it easy to follow up on meeting outcomes.
Write down your guidelines
What’s the best way to ensure that your meeting best practices are implemented?
Write down your meeting guidelines so that meeting organizers don’t have to use time figuring out how to hold their meeting. Instead, they have a guide that quickly explains the dos and don’ts.
Make your guidelines as clear and simple to use as possible. For example, create a checklist with information such as the optimal meeting length and number of participants.
Some things you might want to include are:
- What types of meetings are held at your organization?
- How long are your meetings? When can team members hold longer meetings?
- Who sets the agenda? What does it look like?
- How do you decide who attends meetings and who doesn’t?
- What’s your follow up process? Who’s in charge of it?
- How is meeting material stored? How is it archived?
Help employees feel connected
As mentioned, one reason unnecessary meetings are held is that employees feel disconnected at work. Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple fix. Provide a way for them to connect in other ways, say at weekly meetups.
Conclusion: Set your team up for success with successful meetings
So there you have it.
Businesses waste $37 billion on ineffective meetings pretty much for now reason whatsoever. At the same time, you can cut back on unnecessary meetings in some simple and cost-effective ways.
Now that you know just how costly meetings can be and what you can do about them, it’s time to take action.
Set up your own guidelines and include best practices for your meetings. Then, check in to make sure everyone follows them and tweak then when necessary.
Does it require some effort? Yup. But ultimately, better meetings save both time and money.
Now I’d love to hear from you:
Have you already implemented guidelines in your organization? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t?
Write in the comments below- I read every reply!