Meetings are a quintessential component of any workplace, giving workers and supervisors a chance to convene and generate new ideas, get up-to-speed, and forge a new path forward--or so we've been told.
In reality, meetings aren't nearly as productive as we've been led to believe. In fact, excessive meetings can actually impede productivity more than anything else. But there's a critical problem with eliminating meetings from workplace culture; most people are so used to meetings or so reliant on meetings that they'll never try to make a case for their elimination or reduction.
Of course, there are alternative, "safer" solutions to the problem with meetings. You could cut down meeting times or meeting attendance rosters, or you could eliminate a few meetings but keep some of the more important ones. But I propose the cold turkey method: eliminate every meeting on your calendar right now. That might sound drastic, but there are five very good reasons why you should do it:
1. They're Distracting You. Take a look at your job description and your core responsibilities. Do any of them include meeting? If not, then meetings are simply a distraction from whatever it is your actual responsibilities are, and this is especially damaging for creative roles or roles that require substantial critical thinking.
When you're solving a complex problem or you're trying to come up with something unique and creative, you need time to brainstorm. The momentum of your train of thought is important, and any interruptions to that process can derail you. If you stick a meeting in the middle of the day, you've essentially pre-programmed a distraction to take you off of whatever you're working on. It's even worse when you consider the fact that most meetings require preparation--meaning you have even less time to complete your thoughts before the meeting begins.
2. They're Wasting Time. Every hour you spend in a meeting is an hour you can't spend executing your actual job responsibilities. That's a given. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that an hour isn't that much time. One hour of your time, per meeting, isn't bad, but consider the compounding effects. Two meetings a day, five days a week ends up being 10 hours. An average of five attendees per meeting quickly escalates that into 50 hours of collectively spent time.
This wouldn't be so bad if meetings were, in any way, productive. But think about every meeting you've gone to in the past few months. How many do you remember? How many did you walk away from with no new information and no new tasks?
3. They're Redundant. Some of your meetings might be creative brainstorming sessions or opportunities to solve a problem facing the group, but most meetings are simple "update" or "briefing" meetings. The function of these meetings is to convey information to a group, many of whom only have a piece of information to share.
In today's world, the number of communication mediums available is astounding. There's no reason why everyone has to gather to one place at one time in order to send and receive that information, and in many cases the meeting is simply an additional reiteration of information that was already sent via email. Find a method of communication that works for your company and use it. Anyone who's read my article, "Emails Only, Please: 10 Reasons Phone Calls Are A Waste Of Time" know that I'm a huge fan of email for business communication, and those reasons extend to meetings as well.
4. They're Rigid. The inflexibility of meetings is a major headache. Instead of having an organic conversation with the person next to you about a problem that faces you both, you're forced to wait until a specific day and time to discuss it formally as a group. This inflexibility compartmentalizes what should be an organic, fluid process.
Waiting for a specific time to mention something and putting a time limit on the conversation is redundant. That excess of formality leads to wasted effort and unproductive communication. Not everyone functions well in the morning. Not everyone functions well late in the afternoon. Finding a specific meeting time that works well for everyone is impossible. Instead, play to people's strengths individually and reach out whenever it's appropriate for both of you.
5. They're Expensive. You might not think about meetings as costing anything, unless you're ordering coffee or breakfast for people. But the true cost of meetings is staggering. Take the scenario I outlined in point #2; in that conservative estimate, a company would waste 50 labor hours each week in meetings. Consider the average employee hourly rate--I'll consider a conservative $18--and that's almost $1,000 of wasted money every week.
Of course, most of us aren't in a position to simply cancel every meeting we have planned for the future. Too many other people rely on those meetings. However, you can help to drive a change to your workplace culture, even if it only starts with baby steps. Work to eliminate meetings on certain days of the week--for example, you could experiment with a "No meeting Wednesday"--or start gradually eliminating the least important meetings you hold to demonstrate how little value they actually offer. Once your supervisors and coworkers see the positive changes that come from eliminating meetings, they'll be far more likely to progress forward.
The video below illustrates pretty much every meeting in America. Is this how you want your company spending its time?