It isn’t unusual to feel like many of your meetings are a waste of time. A Google search for “pointless meeting” turns up over 18 million results. In the past few years, “meeting fatigue” has become something of a universal sentiment -- a recent Atlassian study found employees reporting 62 meetings a month -- only about half of which they considered productive.
Those findings aren’t particularly surprising. Employees dislike meetings for obvious reasons. They’re tedious, often tiring, and they take away from time spent on real work. It’s hardly debatable whether meetings are in the interest of the individual. The assumption is that they are in the interest of the company. But what if the assumption is wrong?
The true face of company waste.
It’s not just low or midlevel employees who consider meetings wasted time. It’s leadership as well. An investigation by several researchers from the University of North Carolina revealed one third of hiring managers consider meetings to be detrimental to productivity, yet most organizations dedicate seven to 15 percent of their personnel budget to them. This isn’t just a matter of personal frustration -- although that’s really important too -- it’s a real impact on the business.
Meetings are expensive, plain and simple. And now new research is starting to put hard numbers on the cost. It was estimated that unproductive internal meetings cost $37 billion in the U.S. alone. That number only covers the meetings that don’t deliver any internal progress -- not total money spent -- so every cent of that $37 billion was truly wasted. What do the practical outcomes of that look like? Mostly unfinished projects, frustrated employees and sluggish growth.
As horrifying as that is, it's still not the most destructive type of meeting for growing companies. That dubious distinction goes to sales meetings. Futile sales meetings between sellers and their prospective buyers -- which don’t bring the salespeople any closer to closing a deal -- cost U.S. companies a mind-blowing $591 billion every year. I repeat, $591 billion every year. Of course, if those meetings had turned into deals and secured new revenue, they’d be more than justified. The problem is, they don’t, because more often than not, the opportunity isn’t properly qualified, and the salesperson should probably have not been working the deal to begin with.
Related: 4 Steps to Avoid 'Death by Meeting'
How to strike a balance between meeting waste and meeting need.
Meetings are an indisputably necessary evil. We need them in order to plan, brainstorm and delegate tasks, and any company who stripped away every sales meeting would also lose every deal. They just don’t have to drain quite as many resources as they currently do. So the question instead becomes, how do we vet meetings to see which ones deserve our precious resources, and how do we put a stop to all the waste? Here are a few easy changes for a more efficient and much more pleasant workplace:
1. Axe your recurring meetings.
There are times when regular check-ins are productive and necessary. And there are times when they aren’t. Unfortunately, most organizations tend to err on the side of too many rather than too few, and employees end up sitting around in meetings without a real purpose. Instead of scheduling a recurring meeting, schedule a recurring check-in reminder. That keeps the project top-of-mind and gives team members the opportunity to set up a meeting if there is a need for it, but doesn’t require one if there are other priorities, or if all the items can be managed via email.
2. Consider attendance-optional meetings.
Ninety-one percent of people in the Atlassian study reported daydreaming during a meeting, while 39 percent had even slept. Disengaged employees aren’t an asset in a meeting, and sometimes they can even be a hindrance, by distracting or de-motivating others who might have otherwise participated more actively. Creative meetings like brainstorms can only be successful if their participants are invested in them. Making those types of meetings optional ensures that employees who are overly stressed, tired or uninspired have time to rejuvenate, while those who come are committed and eager to share. This keeps energy high and meetings more productive.
3. Embrace the possibilities of virtual meetings.
Travel is expensive. It takes time and depletes energy, in addition to the costs of transportation. With cloud files, screen-sharing and video conferencing tech so readily available, there are very few meetings that cannot be accomplished over the phone or digitally. Today’s technology can replicate many of the benefits of meeting in-person, and the savings are extensive.
4. Make the decision to invest in an expensive customer meeting based on real data, not wishful thinking.
When you’re hungry for new business, it’s tempting to set meetings with every prospective customer, but those expenses might not always turn into sales, and even when they do, are they really necessary? Instead, focus early on whether you can genuinely solve a buyer’s problem with your solution. Sellers should do their research to learn what the buyer truly cares about, so they can discern with as much certainty as possible that the opportunity could result in mutual value attainment. The tendency amongst salespeople is to be naturally optimistic, a quality that is certainly necessary for success in sales, but it can also lead companies to an expensive dead-end. Doing the legwork early helps avoid these pitfalls.
Meetings have become such an ingrained part of business culture that they are almost a matter of habit -- which is exactly what makes them so dangerous. When you realize exactly how high the cost of this particular habit can be, you realize how important it is to take a step back and reevaluate. A few small changes could make a million dollar difference. Until then you’re just -- in the immortal words of Jimmy Buffett -- "wasting away again." And a conference room isn't nearly as much fun as Margaritaville.