You don't need to be stuck in this New York City public transportation nightmare this week to be wasting time. If you're like me--or anyone in corporate America--you waste a lot of time in meetings.

How many hours a day?

1? 2? 5?

According to two senior Bain & Company partners, try 11 hours a week. Add on 8 hours a week just answering emails, texts, and instant messages, and most "front-line supervisors" have less than 7 hours a week to do actual work that's accretive to the bottom line.



I was fascinated by these numbers, which are featured in a new book, Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team's Productive Power. Authors and Bain partners Michael Mankins and Eric Garton call things that we take for granted--meetings, emails--"organizational drag."

Organizational drag describes the complicated workflows and endless red tape that often impede productivity. Meetings are at the top of that "organizational drag" and often fall into one of three categories:

Meetings that should never have been scheduled in the first place

Meetings where not all attendees should have been invited

Meetings where most attendees didn't need to be there the entire time

Can you relate? Me too.

Crucially, though, meetings aren't a cause of organizational drag.

"These are the symptoms of an organizational pathology," Mankins told me in a recent phone conversation. "Meetings don't just happen. They reflect the organization. They essentially reflect attempts by managers and employees to work together in order to get work done."

That's not to say all meetings are unproductive. However, meetings that are used for two distinct purposes create organizational drag, Mankins points out.

1. Meetings as a status symbol. People often think "the more meetings you're invited to, the more important you must be," Mankins said. "The result is that if you're invited to a meeting, it's essentially the managerial equivalent of belching in church to not attend. It's considered weird, inappropriate. That behavior permeates the organization at every level. It means that more meetings are better. The more crowded your calendar is with meetings and other exchanges, the more prestige you have. And so the goal becomes not explicitly but implicitly to attend more meetings and actually have more meetings so that you can spread the wealth."

2. Meetings as a stopgap for poor communication. Back in the day, "it was expected that leaders would cascade communications or at least share information with subordinates that could not attend but needed to know information," Mankins said. But "today, many leaders have either lost that skill, or simply don't practice it. Instead, they just invite an army of people to every meeting so that then they don't have to transmit any information." The result enforces behavior that if you're not in a meeting, you have missed out. So instead, you believe you have to be in every meeting to get access to information to do your job right.

Mankins said the leanest companies experience organizational drag, not just Fortune 500 corporations. Thankfully, Mankins and his co-author have come up with a novel approach to reducing organizational drag. They suggest that upper management treat time like money--literally.

"Create the notion of a fixed time bank or a zero-based time budget in your organization," Mankins said. "Just like any other investment, an investment in time deserves business cases."

Of course, Mankins says, you can't avoid organizational drag entirely. Even the top quartile of the companies he and his coauthor studied lost about 13% of their time to red tape and bureaucracy. But I for one will be thinking critically about how to maximize my small team's time, talent, and energy going forward.

I've got so much more to say on this subject, but it will have to wait--I have a meeting.

Need more tips on how to make meetings go faster? Try out these tips from CEOs in our Radiate video. Click below to watch.

Published on: Apr 6, 2017
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