Here's an elephant in the meeting room that no one ever discusses: Meetings are hugely expensive. During the next meeting you attend, add up the hourly cost of every person in the room. Then imagine--which shouldn't be hard if you own a small business--that you're writing the check for that meeting. If the money came out of your pocket, would you have the meeting?

Would you have any meetings at all?

Then factor in the opportunity cost for what every person in the room could be achieving instead of listening to Biff from engineering talk about groundbreaking new advances in ball bearing technology.

Any meeting that won't directly generate revenue or cost savings--either in the form of a key decision or a concrete plan of action--is a complete waste of money.

That's especially true whenever:

Information is part of the agenda.

No agenda should include the words information, recap, review, or discussion.

The only agenda you should have is a single bullet point: "Set product launch date," or "Select software developer for database redesign," or something that actually requires a group to make a decision.

Which, if you think about it, is rare.

And don't give me the "but we need buy-in" excuse. Meetings don't create buy-in. Great ideas create buy-in. Great projects create buy-in. Tell me what we're doing, help me understand why it's important that we do it, and if I'm a good employee, I'll buy in.

As for information? Share it before the meeting. If the group needs to make a decision during a meeting, shouldn't they have the information they need ahead of time? Send documents, reports, etc., to participants in advance.

Holding a meeting to share information wastes the entire group's time, and the company's money.

The meeting length is a standard default.

Calendars are usually formatted in 30- or 60-minute chunks. Plus, we're programmed to expect things to start and end at certain times, say, 9 or 3:30. We expect round numbers.

So a meeting that will start at 9 is usually scheduled to run until 9:30 or 10, even if 10 minutes is all that is required to make a decision. What always happens? You fill the time. When was the last time a meeting you attended broke up really early?

It's like buying a bigger house--no matter how much space you have, eventually you fill it with stuff.

Instead, decide ahead of time how long a meeting should last solely on the basis of what you need to accomplish--and nothing more. Then schedule the time accordingly. Tell everyone the meeting will end on time, no matter what. If you need only 10 minutes, schedule 10 minutes--and stick to it.

And ask yourself, if you need only 10 minutes, do you really need the meeting?

People are allowed to be late.

It happens all the time. A few people get to the meeting early. They start chatting. The room fills. It's time to start, but a few people haven't arrived.

So you wait. And wait a little longer.

When it's time to start, start. Start every meeting on time. Do you think it's OK for hourly employees to get to work at 8 a.m. and then goof off for the first 10 minutes of the workday?

Of course not--but when you let a meeting start late, that's exactly what you're doing.

People are allowed to "think out loud."

If anyone in a meeting says, "I'm just thinking out loud," they should be cut off. Immediately.

Why? They should already have their thoughts together. They should show up with concrete ideas that are based on the information you provided ahead of time.

Don't let people muse aloud about half-baked concepts they want to share just because they feel the need to participate or want to seem smart.

If it's a brainstorming session, fine. Otherwise, expect people to come prepared with fully formed thoughts.

Anyone who doesn't do that hasn't taken the time to prepare--and shouldn't be allowed to participate.

Accountability was never established.

Great meetings result in decisions, but a decision isn't really a decision if it's never carried out. Establish what, who, and when.

Never let ownership be fuzzy or unclear. An action item without a clear owner is like an orphan--it's someone else's responsibility.

Which means it quickly becomes no one's responsibility.

A lengthy recap is necessary.

The only recap you need is a list of action items. State what was decided, what will be done, who is responsible for doing it, when it will be done, and nothing else.

Never include items like, "Discussed possibility of reorganizing departmental responsibilities." If all you did was discuss reorganization, then 1) shame on you for not making a decision, and 2) including that "discussion" in a recap implies that group discussions that don't result in decisions are worthwhile.

Don't give general discussions credibility by including them in a meeting recap. People might start thinking general discussions have value.

Where meetings are concerned, they don't.

The goal is to improve "team cohesion."

Team members do need to work well together. But they don't need to hang out or "bond" to do it.

Great business relationships are created when people work together toward a common goal--and are able to count on one another to do their part, meet commitments, and get things done.

In short, great relationships happen when you produce tangible outcomes and achieve meaningful goals. Not before--after.

Don't mistake interpersonal relationships for productive relationships. Accomplishing hard things is the best way to improve team chemistry--not sitting in a meeting.