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Senior Correspondent

Fewer Meetings, Higher Productivity

Fewer Meetings, Higher Productivity


We keep asking clients and colleagues what it would take to make this a great and productive year. Our informal poll suggests that reducing time spent in meetings would be a great start: fewer meetings, shorter meetings, more productive meetings.

A more formal poll from the Wharton Center for Applied Research published the following findings in the Wall Street Journal.

  • The average CEO spends about 17 hours each week in meetings.
  • Senior executives spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings.
  • Middle managers spend an average of 11 hours in meetings per week.
  • Senior and middle managers said only 56% of meetings were productive.
  • They added that a phone call or a memo could have replaced over 25% of the meetings they attend.

In over two decades of working with managers, business owners, executives, and boards, we hear the growing frustration of folks being "stuck in meetings" that are unexpected, poorly planned, take longer than necessary, and eat up productive time. And there is always a chance that folks leave meetings with unclear understandings or expectations, which take even more time to sort out. And to compensate for the time lost, they take work home, work extra hours, work extra days. And what's of more concern is that many folks just accept this as "the way it is." Meetings are just a necessary evil. To that we say, Really? 

Since huge amounts of time and energy are consumed by meetings, how much difference could it make to you to lead and participate in more effective meetings? We can project an additional 8 hours per week available to most managers when they plan, conduct and participate in more effective meetings. At 50 weeks a year, that would average 400 hours per year, or 4,000 hours per decade, or approximately 2 years of your work life. 

Is it worth it? We sure think so!

Consider the following tips to get you started:

  1. Avoid scheduling meetings when the meeting purpose and usefulness is not clearly defined.
  2. Meetings are great for solving problems, establishing goals and priorities, and hammering out a plan of action. Meetings may not always be the best venue for sharing information.
  3. Provide a clear agenda in advance to those involved. Make sure there is plenty of time for folks to collect needed information and prepare. Categorize agenda items using headings such as discussion, decision, etc. This will help people come prepared to participate.
  4. Schedule the most important agenda items first. Allocate a specific amount of time to each agenda item.
  5. Write the agenda on a flip chart before participants arrive. This helps folks transition from their work and begin to focus on the meeting agenda. Use an open semicircle or tables arranged in U shape to stimulate participation. If you are using distance technology, do the virtual equivalent.
  6. Remove distractions of all kinds.
  7. Start the meeting on time. End early or on time. Provide a clear explanation of the purpose of the meeting prior to starting. Avoid talking too much. You don't call meetings to hear yourself talk.
  8. Energize and inspire the group. Find ways to help bring out the best in your group.
  9. Make sure everyone is absolutely clear about action items and their owners coming out of the meeting.

We hope one or more of these tips will help you have your best meeting yet!

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