I recently had an experience that seemed eerily similar. Only I wasn’t in a seedy nightclub and the clientele weren’t aliens. Instead, I was in a business meeting and the characters were business professionals.
That incident has led me to be more choosy about the meetings I attend, if not swear off many altogether.
I’d agreed to attend the meeting even though its description had been somewhat fuzzy, which should have been a red flag. The meeting began on time, but it soon became clear that it had no agenda and even less focus. It quickly veered off into topics unrelated to the vague description provided earlier.
I guess that shouldn’t have been a surprise based on the appalling behavior many participants exhibited. Some whiled away the time on their smartphones, sending and responding to emails – even checking Facebook. Others conducted side conversations. A couple others snacked.
When the meeting mercifully ended, we had accomplished nothing, and I couldn’t help but shudder at the time we had wasted. That got me wondering how much time companies spend in meetings—and how much of it is unproductive.
We’re Wasting Too Much Time and Money
Bain & Company, a respected management consulting firm, found that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, a number that has steadily increased since 2008. Senior executives spend more than 40% of their time – two full days a week—in meetings with three or more coworkers. And many meetings, Bain found, are often scheduled “just because.”
All these meetings come with a staggering price. Companies in the U.S. alone waste more than $37 billion in salary costs related to unnecessary meetings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Later, as I replayed the experience in my mind, I became angry – mostly at myself for being lured into such an unproductive venture. I resolved to be more careful about the meetings I attend.
So here is some unsolicited advice for anyone who wants to invite me (or anyone else, for that matter) to a business meeting:
- Think hard before you punch the Invite button.
Outlook makes it easy – maybe too easy – to send a meeting notice. Before you organise a meeting, ask yourself: Does this absolutely require a meeting? You may find that you can accomplish the goal by making a few phone calls or sending an IM or two.
- Save “the more the merrier” for parties, not business meetings.
If you do need to organize a meeting, ask: Which people absolutely need to attend? Invite only those whose presence is vital to resolving the issue at hand.
- Tell me why I need to attend.
In your meeting invitation, clearly explain why you’re calling the meeting, why attendees’ presence is needed and what you expect to accomplish. Invite attendees to opt out if they don’t feel they can contribute in a meaningful way.
- Sweat the details.
Meetings don’t run themselves. Conducting a good one means getting the details right: Have a clear meeting agenda. If reading is required, send the materials upfront. Keep the meeting focused and start and end on time. And if participants aren’t paying full attention, demand that they do so.
My time is too valuable to waste on unnecessary, unproductive business meetings—and so is yours. I’ve learned my lesson. If I receive a meeting request that doesn’t meet the four criteria above, I’ll refuse to attend.
I invite you to do the same.
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