Meetings – Most Are a Waste of Time
Do this…Start making some notes right after the meetings you attend, and evaluate how effective they were.
Did you really need the hour or two you spent? Did all the people present need to be there the entire time? Probably not.
Lessons From Mr. Selfridge
Remember the TV show Mr. Selfridge?
Entrepreneur Harry Selfridge is building his department store in London. In one episode some of his staff come to his office for a meeting only to find there are no chairs. When asked, his reply – “I like short meetings.”
Stand up meetings are always shorter…
Why Are Meetings the Way They Are? A Few Observations…
Over 30 years in business, I’ve worked for really big companies (like Bank of America and Johnson & Johnson), and I’ve worked for really small companies…as well as mid-market.
I’ve also been involved in 3 start-ups, and my current privately owned business, now celebrating 16 years as of this month! All that to say, I’ve been to lots of meetings.
There are different kinds of meetings. And there are some that deserve some time. For instance, the day-long facilitated planning meeting. Should it be all day?
If you have a professional facilitator, they can often get a month’s worth of things done in a single day. If you’ve never hired a professional facilitator to work out business strategy, direction, M&A activity, etc. it’s time you did…it will save you time in the long run. Aside from that, most meetings are just too long.
But most meetings aren’t that. They’re just meetings…
Some questions to consider:
- Why is every meeting 1/8 of your 8 hour day?
- How much is it costing you when someone shows up late?
- How often are people thinking out loud in your meeting vs. preparing ahead?
- How many of the attendees really need to be there?
- Did an agenda get sent out ahead?
- Are there specific goals?
- Are you meeting over lunch?
Things to Stop Doing…
Lunchtime meetings. Lunch is the only time you have to meet? Eat for 30 minutes, meet for 30 minutes. Watch and observe – nothing really happens when the food comes. Don’t fool yourself… no one is actually accomplishing meeting agendas while eating.
Just Thinking Out Load. No! Stop…don’t think here with all of these people! Brainstorming, masterminding…these are all good exercises, but best kept for meetings specifically structured for them. In general, random thinking out loud wastes the group’s time.
Going Around the Room. Going around the room for status updates is extremely time consuming. What if everyone just submitted their update ahead of time in a short paragraph, and you used the shorter meeting time to give a brief update on things everyone needs to know, then ask any clarifying questions?
Allowing Late Comers to Waste Everyone’s Time. How often are you sitting there waiting on people who really do need to be in the meeting? This happens all the time. It’s unacceptable. I know one company doesn’t allow the late comers in.
Got-a-Minute Meetings. (The GAM). And finally, stop the GAMs. This is possibly the biggest meeting time waster of all. The guy who wanders the halls, not really knowing what he’s trying to accomplish today, but insists on stopping in on people with the Got-a-minute greeting…no agenda, no goal in mind, mostly bored. It’s okay to say, “No, super busy today.”
Setting Meeting Times
I schedule 30 minute meetings…in fact, I have someone managing my calendar, keeping guard over how much time each meeting is set for. I notice when I let someone outside my organization send a meeting invite, it’s 60 minutes, no matter what the agenda is.
I’ve told my office manager, don’t accept anything over 30 minutes unless there’s justifiable cause. Aside from a training session (whole different kind of meeting) there rarely ever is…
Then at the start of the meeting I say, “I have a hard stop at ______!”
Are There Goals? Try this…
Before the meeting, write down the 2 – 5 things that have to be accomplished.
Can any one of them be accomplished without a meeting? Chances are the answer is YES.
So complete them before you meet. If you need approval, come with the completed goal to get the final stamp – might take 5 minutes if there are questions.
Even sales meetings should be short. If you have something valuable to say, come prepared to say it. Your close rates don’t go up with more time spent per meeting.
Track this, test it…see if I am right. In fact, your prospect will see you as more valuable, more important, in demand, if you let them know up front, you just have 30 minutes. (Check out Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff – a favorite of mine – he’s down to 20 minutes.)
Accomplish the goal, thank the group, and dismiss…even if you’re early. Send out an email recap on what was accomplished and what action items need to be completed.
Is There a Meeting Agenda?
Goals defined – All meetings should have an agenda. Will there be introductions, different people presenting something, a vote? Accepting a meeting without an agenda is just asking to waste the hour.
Starting a meeting with, “Let’s see, what do we need to accomplish in the next hour,” is a good reason to excuse yourself from the meeting.
All of this should take place before meeting, be sent out, and reviewed by anyone attending.
Were People Prepared to Meet?
Preparation. The key to great meetings is preparation. How often is the person leading the meeting starting out shuffling papers, talking to themselves, or talking about last night’s ball game?
This too is a waste of time.
Social interaction is important – schedule time to socialize, or shorten meetings and finish work early so you can go out and socialize. Schedule a longer lunch for social occasions. But don’t make meetings your social hour.
With your agenda, make sure it’s clear in the meeting invite, what people need to do to prepare.
- Things to think about before you come.
- Things to write up or send me before the meeting.
- Specific numbers or summaries – send them ahead for review.
Who Has to be There?
How often have you sat in a meeting to hear someone reviewing stuff no one cares about? This is big at large company meetings.
My observation – few are interested or need to know all the details of what someone else is working on. If there are people who will have to complete certain action items coming out of the meeting, it doesn’t mean they need to be in the meeting.
Consider who really needs to hear what. Who will actually contribute? The more people you have in a meeting, the longer it takes.
This is Not Personal
Finally, don’t think I’m not social. I love social outings, parties, group activities, team building, even facilitated meetings. In fact, I professionally facilitate meetings! This is not personal…
It’s time management – to allow for more time on things that are important. More family time, more vacation time, more social time, even more selling time!
When I started at Bank of America, one of the first people I was introduced to told me, at Bank of America we meet all day and do our work at night. What? And she was right…looking back, few of the meetings I sat in actually made any difference, and most didn’t need me to be there. But I sure did attend a lot of them.
What meetings can your shorten right now or totally cancel to free up your day? Let’s kick off the New Year with a new meeting mindset, and save a ton of time.
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© 2019, David Stelzl