It's no secret the nature of work has changed over the last 20 years. Leaders and employees alike all feel the pressure to move faster and faster to keep up and compete.

But there's a productivity killer lurking in every office. It's the meeting.

47 percent of workers say meetings are the number one time-waster at the office. It gets worse if you manage people, since the average manager spends two full days per week consumed in meetings. To top it off, a recent survey found that 71% of senior managers felt meetings in their companies were unproductive and inefficient.

A lot has been said about how to make meetings more efficient. With 20+ years of Fortune 500 change management experience, I strongly believe there's only one way to fix the meeting madness that has taken over corporate culture, and it's not about giving meetings a productivity makeover.

To remain competitive in the future - as companies and as a country as a whole - we must stop the meeting madness. Teams and organizations must actually meet less, so they can free up time to do more of what really matters (e.g., their "real" work).

Some start-ups have begun proactively crafting their fledgling corporate cultures using a zero meetings policy. Established companies can't start from scratch, but there are some simple strategies that can help remake run-amok meeting cultures.

Here are three simple things anyone can do to stop the meeting madness:

1. Calculate the Hidden Costs of Your Meetings

The hidden costs of meetings fly under the radar within most companies, let alone the ROI of scaling back formal meetings. For example, a team of 10 people with an average salary of $75,000 that meets together twice per week for an hour could save a whopping 500 working hours and almost $20,000 in labor costs by eliminating one meeting per week. Calculate your own potential ROI here:


Surfacing the invisible overhead that evades quantification in most companies helps raise awareness of the opportunity costs of unnecessary meetings.
 

2. Filter Meeting Requests

How do you know if a meeting is worth the time?

Live meetings are valuable for collective decision-making, creative brainstorming, or when real collaboration is important. While involvement can help foster team alignment, many companies err on the side of over-inviting meeting participants, most of whom don't really need to be there.

Here are a few filters to consider when scheduling a meeting or responding to a meeting request

  • Does the proposed meeting's outcome really require a larger group's involvement?
  • How many people truly need to be there live versus provide static inputs in advance?
  • Can the results of the meeting be communicated as effectively as having people passively listening while sitting in on the meeting?

It may very well be that instead of a "meeting" it's equally viable for a few people to gather inputs, review them in a much smaller setting, and then communicate the results to those who need an update.

3. Kill Status Update Meetings

The proverbial "death by PowerPoint" meeting is typically a result of misguided agendas that involve too many status updates. When meetings are structured around "status updates" it's a sign of deeper communication challenges in the culture.

While an understanding of the status of something can provide helpful context for decision-making, the status update itself often doesn't need to be shared in the meeting itself. The CEO of a large insurance company I've worked with, for example, asks participants to provide any status update documents a week in advance of any meeting. The time used for in-person meetings focuses on the insights and implications of the topic, not on the data itself.

Many executives I've worked with view meetings as a necessary evil. Meetings have become so ingrained in business culture that they've become an unquestionable sacred cow. It's time to put them on the chopping block.

Published on: Aug 24, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.