Curing a workplace of “meeting-mania” – preempting further productivity loss

Productivity in business is crucial. High productivity results in optimal allocation and utilization of available resources, and therefore greater return on investment and profitability. Consistently high performance allows the company to be more competitive, and can ultimately lead to increases in sales and revenues.

The driving force behind productivity is, of course, employees, whose efficiency determines the gross productivity level. Efficient and reliable employees are sure to positively affect the bottom line of the company and substantially contribute to its overall success. Conversely, employees who lack commitment are nothing but a burden to the company and, actually, do more damage than good. The ways in which employees can hurt the company are multiple and diverse. Consider the following set of circumstances that may cause productivity loss, consequently incapacitating the company:

  • absenteeism
  • employee job dissatisfaction
  • employee disengagement
  • inadequate communication
  • personal problems
  • inadequate self-management
  • inconsistent performance

And the list goes on. In the interests of keeping any of the above-mentioned factors from damaging the company, management needs to constantly keep an eye on what employees are doing, whether they are working at all, and how fast they are progressing with their tasks. A good way to do just that is by calling a meeting: it’s more interactive than a group email, it keeps employees accountable for their work to the rest of the team, as well as the management of the company, and it allows managers to cover multiple points promptly and effectively. Meetings done right are great in more than one way. They allow employees to:

  • catch up on each other’s progress
  • share information and opinions in the tout de suite mode
  • bounce ideas of one another
  • give comprehensive feedback, derived from multiple points of view, to one another
  • form and strengthen interpersonal relationships

They also allow the management to observe the group dynamics and discern whether a conflict may be brewing among their subordinates.

So, yes, thoughtfully planned and expertly orchestrated meetings are wonderfully effective tools that help management keep tabs on the employees, monitor their progress, and evaluate how a collective effort of their workforce affects the company’s productivity in general. However, any positive effects of the meetings are diminished rather drastically if the meetings are conducted in excess, are poorly organized, lack purpose, or have no effective agenda. Such meetings are not only unnecessary and disruptive, but they also cause employee productivity to decline and eat intro the company’s bottom line. To check whether any given meeting is worth attending, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the meeting have an agenda? Was it transparently defined in the invite?
  • Is the agenda worth the cost of the meeting, or could a simple email serve the same purpose quite splendidly instead?
  • Is the meeting trying to cover relevant points or is it just an announcement?
  • Does it have a clear time frame?
  • Was it scheduled beforehand? Save for the emergency cases, last-minute meetings are usually reactive – as opposed to much preferred proactive – way of dealing with the issues.
  • Are too many people invited? Is everyone’s presence germane to the agenda and purpose of the meeting?
  • Ultimately, will it help you and your employees do the job better, or is it going to waste time that otherwise could be more efficiently spent?

If your answer is “yes” to any of the points listed above, the meeting in question is likely an ineffective and unnecessary one. Such meetings yield few results, confuse and fluster employees, and cost the company dearly in lost hours and reduced productivity.

A study conducted by Michael C. Mankings and his colleagues for Harvard Business Publishing (HBP) found that employees of one large company spent  300,000 hours a year in weekly executive committee meetings. Their time spent in preparation for and execution of those meetings is an incredible number! If multiplied by the wages of those involved, the number becomes truly frightening.  That’s the cost of actual work foregone and productivity lost.

How much exactly the “meeting-mania” costs American companies is not quite clear, but various studies and surveys suggest that the number is in the millions of dollars per year.

If “meeting-mania” has infiltrated and permeated your company, steps must be taken to circumscribe its adverse effects and prevent any future damage. So, when planning for the next meeting, make sure that the following points are covered:

  1. Set the goal. What does success look like to you? What do you want to achieve as a result of the meeting? It helps to write down your vision; it will strengthen your commitment and keep you laser-focused on the relevant issue only. This will also help everyone else who is going to attend the meeting; don’t assume they know or can figure out your motives and reasons, tell them what the priorities are – obviate ambiguity at all costs.
  2. Have a clear agenda. A meeting with no lucid agenda, time frames, assignments, etc., is not worth the time allotted for it. An agenda is essential for verifying that the goals of the meeting are achieved and attendees have a sufficient amount of time to prepare for it. A clearly defined agenda should inform the participants about the meeting’s general purpose and its specific objectives, not to mention such simple but necessary details as the time, date, location and the list of participants, which oftentimes get neglected in the meeting invite.
  3. Have a timekeeper. It is hard, if not outright impossible, to keep track of certain time limits in the midst of aheated debate, so someone needs to be assigned the timekeeper role to facilitate order and efficiency during the meeting. Meetings should always start and, preferably, end at the agreed-upon time. Time must not be wasted on reviewing the agenda – if it has been defined in the meeting invite, repeating the same information again is burning daylight. The speakers need to be reminded to be succinct and to refrain from going on tangents. Therefore, a timekeeper is crucial in determining how successful the meeting is going to be.
  4. Have a facilitator. To ensure the right voices get heard, the position of meeting moderator should be assigned to one of the attendees. A facilitator creates the flow, allowing information to circulate the room in a logical and effectual manner. The facilitator’s objective is to make sure that the meeting participants actively listen and engage in the discussion, without interrupting one another or trying to take over the meeting.
  5. Create a follow-up plan of action. Never leave a meeting without one! Have it written down and make sure that an appropriate email is sent to everyone who attended the meeting, with a well-defined set of instructions and assignments. Be as clear about the follow-up expectations as possible, for the sake of avoiding any future misunderstandings, which would require that a new meeting to be called to clear them.