6 Ways To Eliminate Unnecessary Meetings To Be More Productive
Meetings are often referred to as a “necessary evil”, but we can make the best use of our time when we eliminate unnecessary meetings in the workplace.
Employees and even leadership would agree that while abundant meetings often take a toll on our time, focus, and creativity… regular meetings can contribute to collaboration and a safe place for information-sharing.
However, more than 35% of employees find that they waste at least two to five hours on meetings and calls, but don’t achieve much in the way of their everyday projects. And a staggering 67% of employees complain that too much time spent in meetings prevents them from being productive at work (Source: Otter.ai).
Overall, effective meetings must have a clear purpose, inspire innovation from the team, and be succinct yet robust in their results. Frequent and useless meetings can be counterproductive for morale and team motivation. Here’s how we can eliminate unnecessary meetings to make the best use of our time and maintain productivity in the workplace.
Why We Need To Eliminate Unnecessary Meetings
Poorly run meetings can have an unexpected effect on the participants that go beyond being bored or indifferent. We joke that meetings are a painful affair to sit through, especially when unorganized and lacking any sense of purpose. But how much of this playful humor leads to real consequences for the company? Turns out, unnecessary meetings can result in several unwanted outcomes:
- Higher costs for the company. According to Inc.’s review of Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings Report, poorly organized meetings will cost companies approximately $399 billion in the U.S. and $58 billion in the U.K. alone. This is factoring in the cost of labor and resources it takes to conduct recurring meetings.
- Valuable time is wasted. Meetings can take a significant amount of time, which means employees are less devoted to their tasks and unable to produce at the rate that’s conducive to the company’s objectives. As productivity is steadily lost, it effectively lowers the bottom line. If the average meeting is scheduled for one full hour (and not even considering if it goes beyond the allotted time), and you participate in an average of 2-3 meetings per day, that’s roughly 3 hours — almost half of a regular shift — that’s gone out of a typical 8-hour window. This is especially true for those in managerial roles, who are often pulled into a large number of meetings for a variety of topics and are only able to get to their own personal assignments at the end of the day.
- More opportunity for distraction. In a research survey conducted by RescueTime, 64% of participants agreed that the most common interruption at work is face-to-face distractions since these interactions are often hard to ignore and are the most demanding. This can include anything from a coworker popping in to ask a question or a manager coming in to work through the details of the latest issue. Because these are face-to-face (whether in-person or online) unnecessary meetings can consistently distract us from doing our best work.
- Loss of momentum. Frequent, unnecessary meetings kill momentum. When individuals on a team are finally able to concentrate on their task and then subsequently forced to put down their work to attend a meeting, they usually return back to the same work less committed, unable to rediscover the energy they had for the task in the beginning. This leaves employees feeling exhausted and further contributes to a decline in work quality.
- Undisciplined time management. When a meeting goes overtime, there are a couple of things that pop up in an employee’s mind. 1) Their time wasn’t important or respected enough to conclude the meeting at its scheduled time and 2) it’s becoming commonplace — a part of the company culture — to not be able to meet deadlines because they’re expected to fully divert their attention to these meetings. Unnecessary meetings can have a long-term effect on an employee’s motivation to stay with the company and impart poor time management practices that can create issues in other areas of performance.
Now that you can see the negative impact these meetings can have on employee culture, morale, and a company’s success, let’s dive into how you can identify the signs of an unnecessary meeting.
What Is Considered An Unnecessary Meeting?
Here is how you can recognize an unnecessary meeting:
- No agenda – If a meeting doesn’t have a structured agenda, it will ultimately lack focus and much-needed clarity for the participants. The conversation will bounce between various subjects with no clear direction and no actual solutions.
- Vague Topic – The team should always know exactly what the meeting is about, the purpose for having the meeting, and the overall goal of what needs to be achieved. If the subject is too vague — or can’t be properly explained — the meeting likely doesn’t need to happen.
- Simple announcements – A meeting dedicated to announcing simple updates is considered unnecessary. These updates can be shared in other, less time-consuming methods such as team messaging or emails.
- Scheduled for more than 1 hour – Unless these meetings are rare and purposefully organized, regular meetings that exceed one hour can be considered a red flag. Meetings that surpass the one-hour mark usually have no structure and are a way for the conductor to “fish” for information rather than give priority to problem-solving. These types of meetings tend to be too much back-and-forth, leaving many attendees mentally exhausted at the end.
- Recurring meetings with no agenda – Standing meetings are a great way to check in with your team and open up a healthy communication channel for all involved parties. However, each meeting should have a structure to ensure that it’s successful, and not a drain on time. For example, the meeting could open with a positive focus or reflection of success since the last meeting, followed by pending action items, conversations around proposed solutions, opportunities for questions, and next steps. If this essential framework or something similar isn’t working for the purpose of the meeting or doesn’t produce any real results, the meeting may need to be taken off the team calendar.
If any of these signs are present in your own meetings, it may be time to re-evaluate their necessity.
How To Eliminate Unnecessary Meetings
Knowing how to spot an unnecessary meeting and understanding why it can be detrimental to the team’s morale and productivity are important first steps. Now, let’s dive into how you can review the meetings currently scheduled and evaluate them in meaningful ways.
1. Be clear on the purpose.
You want to make the best use of your time, and that means getting crystal clear on the purpose behind the meeting. To gain this type of clarity, you need to ask yourself a few fundamental questions:
- What am I trying to achieve at this meeting?
- Is this meeting set up to update the team on particular events, discuss changes to existing processes, operate as a training platform, or be a problem-solving matter?
- What kind of input am I looking to get?
- Who absolutely needs to be involved in the discussion?
- What kind of decisions need to be made by the end?
- Is there another effective way to get answers without calling a meeting?
These questions will help give you the acuity to determine whether your meetings are truly productive, which will then determine what you can eliminate to save time.
2. Gather feedback from the team.
The team’s input about their current feelings on the frequency of meetings can be an invaluable resource. This information can help you determine whether your current cadence is working or if it’s affecting the team in a negative way. Collecting data can be done by using surveys, emails, or even brief interviews. If it’s appropriate, you can even repurpose one of the current standing meetings to act as a way to get feedback on the necessity of the meetings. If the answer you’re receiving from the team is collectively opposed to meetings, you can then evaluate whether to eliminate the unnecessary meeting or structure it in such a way that it’s more organized and beneficial to the participants.
3. Look at the feedback together.
In an open, non-judgmental, and constructive space, the feedback should be deconstructed as a team. This is an opportunity for everyone to be on the same page and hear from each other what’s working and what needs to be improved. Looking at the feedback as a single unit can not only foster a culture of inclusion but can also inspire collaboration and understanding amongst the team to arrive at the best possible outcome and eliminate unnecessary meetings from the schedule.
4. Can it be solved another way?
Is a face-to-face meeting the right choice in arriving at a decision? Can you utilize another method that would yield the same results without having to call everyone together? If you are able to use a different platform to communicate your needs to the team, then a meeting might not even be necessary. This can be in the form of a phone conversation, a team message, or an email.
It’s important to continually check in on the state of your employees’ feelings towards meetings, especially if they seem frustrated, disinterested, and less productive. This is a way to get ahead and monitor if the meetings are truly helpful.
For example, the Harvard Business Review partnered up with a pharmaceutical company they regularly work with to determine how “meeting-free” days were impacting their teams. They were given two “pulse checks” to monitor how the experiment was going and provided the impacted teams with specific questions. They asked how they were feeling, how valuable are the ways in which they spend their time, and if this was sustainable for them. The discussion that followed resulted in an in-depth conversation on the problem with meetings and, more surprisingly, how individuals on the team approach their work and each other.
Ultimately, these regular check-ins acted as a platform for employees to be honest about their feelings and frustrations, which led to bigger, more nuanced discussions surrounding how teams can best work together.
Purposeful debriefs such as these can help you determine whether the meeting is truly supporting your team in the way that it needs to or if it’s becoming a source of shared frustration and animosity.
6. Protect the team’s time (and yours!)
This is an important aspect that can be a direct reflection of a company’s work culture. Employees want to feel respected and valued, which includes how leaders show up to their meetings and treat everyone’s time. Those in the leadership and managerial roles must adapt and recognize how precious time is as a vital resource. And the more that time is protected against unnecessary meetings, the more likely it is for employees to operate at their most productive. Keeping this top of mind will help you determine if certain meetings really do need to occur.
We’ve all been stuck in an endless cycle of back-to-back meetings that steal away our time and energy. At the end of the workday, we’re left to readjust our focus and jump-start our productivity just so that we can get the bare minimum of our assignments done. And more often than we like, we end up working overtime or odd hours to meet our deadlines as the monotonous meetings we were required to attend took up the bulk of the day’s working hours.
It’s crucial to understand how these meetings impact the team’s motivation and morale. With this knowledge, we’ll be able to eliminate unnecessary meetings that halt productivity and give back the time that the team needs to perform effectively.