Are meetings really a waste of time?

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3 months ago by Sophie Stones

Are meetings really a waste of time?

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The subject of joke comic strips, memes and even magazine covers, meetings have increased in both length and frequency in the last 50 years, with Executives now spending an average of nearly 23 hours a week ‘chewing the fat’ in boardrooms.

Whether you spend your meeting time with just your manager talking about KPI, or with the entire team discussing profit margins, research has shown that most of us are attending 62 meetings per month, with half of those being deemed wasteful and unproductive. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, says that “excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time”, which is why he suggests that if you feel you aren’t adding value to the chat, just walk out.

Amazons Jeff Bezos takes a different but similarly maverick approach, requiring a 6 page, narratively structured memo before every meeting, which whilst seemingly wasting more time, actually forces the organizer to understand the subject thoroughly and gives them time to question whether the meeting is truly necessary.

Thorough research into the topic suggests that it actually isn’t the frequency with which we take meetings that’s the problem, but rather how long we’re taking within them. Marissa Mayer has been segmenting her diary into 10-minute chunks for years now, playing into the theory that most people can only pay attention to something for up to 18 minutes before their mind begins to wander to other things (stop thinking about ice cream, we’re still talking about meetings here).

These micro meetings also ensure that we don’t fall into the traps outlined in Parkinson’s law. Posturing that we’ll expand our work to fit the time allocated for it, cutting meetings to 10 minutes means less time wasted on small talk and chit chat. But is this really a positive?

Whilst cutting chatting could save wasted revenue (click here to use HBR’s Meeting Cost Calculator for an estimate of how much your meetings could be wasting) it could also cost us in other ways. The alternative to meetings could be more autocratic decision-making, destroying any hope for the inclusive environment that’s become essential for retention. An MIT study also found that employees who ranked in the top third for group cohesiveness were shown to be 10% more productive than their less cohesive peers.

Meetings are a way to ensure that this cohesiveness is upheld. At Goodman Masson, each new starter is invited to numerous meetings, with members of every team, Directors, Chairmen and our CEO, to ensure people are people, not just names, and that they can truly get to grips with the group culture.

Like with everything, there are arguments for and against frequent meetings, however the benefits of our new starter meetings prove that in the long run, meetings can go beyond simply achieving a short-term goal. Cutting meetings entirely could result in a drop in morale and a loss of collaboration, instead why not follow those who colour-code meetings to show their importance, block out part of the day where employees must fit all of their meetings, or share your own tips on our social media...