Wisdom//

A Productivity Expert on the 5 Mistakes You’re Probably Making in Meetings Without Realizing It.

If your hour-long meeting finishes in 21 minutes, don't panic.

Courtesy of Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Courtesy of Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Meetings are a pet peeve of mine.

They are often one of the biggest productivity drains for many corporations. In the 20th century, with the sheer growth of the world, meetings were critical. They were the key manner in which information was distributed.

Today, we have many more options available to us. Naturally, we need meetings to ensure things stay on track, but too many companies keep them out of tradition. Studies have also shown that many companies run ineffective ones that actually hurt, rather than help, the organization.

Meetings done right will boost productivity. Let’s take a look at the five biggest mistakes you may be making, and don’t even know it.

1. You’re spending too much

How much are your meetings costing you? My answer: Too much. Most people’s answer: We don’t know (and that’s not good). According to a survey conducted by The Muse, an estimated $37 billion is wasted in meetings each year. What’s worse is that Highfive has found that every year since 2000 time in meetings has increased by 10%.

I have been in monthly staff meetings with over 100 people that lasted two hours. That’s an astounding amount of potential productive energy being thrown down the drain.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Steven Rogelberg at the University of North Carolina and colleagues interviewed 182 senior managers. Sixty-five percent said meetings stop them from finishing individual work, and 71% consider meetings unproductive and inefficient. That aligns with my own personal survey, where managers believed they could reduce their meetings by at least 80% and it would have little, if any, negative effect on the company.

Fix: Challenge yourself to reduce, or eliminate, as many meetings as possible. You’ll be surprised how few are really necessary.

2. You invited the wrong people

I recently caught an old episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Restaurant Nightmares. In it, a restaurant was run by three owners, leading to all sorts of chaos. Ramsay said it reminded him of an old saying in England: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” The same is true in the boardroom; too many persons involved in a meeting can ruin it.

In talking to clients and in my own experience, meetings are often held with a group of people who don’t need to be there. I believe in the “two-pizza rule” made famous by Jeff Bezos. If you can’t feed everyone at the meeting with two pizzas, then you’ve got too many people.

Fix: Only have necessary members attend a meeting.

3. You don’t focus enough on the agenda

Brian Tracy likes to say, “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.” The same goes for meetings. Poorly planned meetings can be worse than no meeting at all. An agenda, with clear goals and outcomes in mind, will transform your meetings.

It’s not about how long the meeting is, but that everything that needs to be done gets done. With an agenda in hand, work through the points one by one, crossing them off as you go. Once you finish everything on the agenda, the meeting is over. Don’t make the mistake of trying to fill up the allotted time. If your hour-long meeting finishes in 21 minutes, then so be it. A meeting should take as long as it takes, no longer.

Fix: Work from an agenda.

4. You put too much trust in your memory

Let’s face the facts: so many of us have lousy memories. To be fair, in today’s world we suffer from information overload, or what productivity expert Darren Hardy calls “infobesity.” It’s simply impossible to remember everything.

A study done by two British psychologists, J. Blackburn and EJ Lindgren, revealed some interesting statistics regarding meetings. They tape-recorded a discussion at the end of a Cambridge Psychological Society meeting.

Two weeks later they asked the attendees to write down whatever they could recall about the discussion. The results were telling:

  • The average number of points remembered by each person was only 8.4% of those actually recorded.
  • 42% of the items remembered were incorrectly remembered — and substantially so.
  • Many of the things “remembered” were not said at all or were said on some other occasion.

If this doesn’t demonstrate the need for written summaries, I don’t know what does.

Fix: Have minutes of the meeting distributed with all essential dates, numbers, and the overall action plan.

5. You aren’t using meetings for discussion

Meetings can be broken up into two types: those meant to distribute information and those meant for discussion. Limit the first. There are better ways to distribute information in today’s world from videos to online systems that allow you to track any number of data.

As for discussion-based meetings, it’s important to remember Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This goes for meetings as well. Keep your meetings concise. Don’t waste time. You want them to be simple “in-and-out” procedures.

I love what the Japanese chip-equipment maker, Disco Corp, implemented. They charge their employees $100 to use a meeting room. Talk about a great way of cutting down on unnecessary meetings.

Fix: Find other, more efficient ways to distribute information. Try and keep meetings for discussions only.

Originally published on Business Insider.

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