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Why We Need 100 per cent Less Meetings

Why we need 100 per cent less meetings

Not all meetings are bad – some get cancelled, as the joke goes. In the modern workplace, two issues consistently top the list of productivity killers. One is the ever-increasing volumes of email that fills up our inbox and keeps us in the office later than is good for us. The other is meetings. And not just the volume of meetings, but a range of issues that can make meetings an expensive drain on our precious time and productivity.

At senior levels, meetings are one of the key ways of getting things done, and keep work moving. But sometimes when we have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Meetings will always be a part of our working week, but are only one type of activity a manager or leader should allocate time and attention to. As well as meeting time, they also need time alone to ‘do’ their priorities and emails. They should allocate time and space to have more informal discussions with their team, their boss and their key stakeholders. And finally, they should but often don’t, protect time to think. A manager or leader with no time to think risks being reactive and ineffective. Of course, thinking gets done. But often outside of core working hours, which are filled full of meetings, interruptions and issues to be resolved.

Don’t overfill your schedule

Now many factors impact on a manager’s ability to allocate time in a balanced way, but one of the key factors is likely to be too much time allocated to meetings, and not enough time protected for the other activities during the day. I believe most managers need to be more ruthless about how much of their time they give away to meetings. It is not unusual for my senior clients to spend 80 per cent or more of their week in meetings, leaving little time for anything else. Like a kettle with a ‘fill only to here’ mark, our schedules should have a fill mark that we cannot go above!

But too many meetings are only a part of the issue. Many of the meetings we attend go for too long, have too many people involved, and are not organised or run effectively. These issues make meetings unproductive for all involved, and can impact the productivity of entire teams, divisions or organisations.

100 per cent less meetings

This is why I firmly believe most organisations should aim for 100 per cent less meetings. Yes, 100 per cent less! Think about it this way – I reckon we could easily have 25 per cent fewer meetings in our week and would probably find that our productivity actually increased. We should also strive for 25 per cent shorter meetings. Most meetings are scheduled for one hour, purely because our calendars have convenient one-hour timeslots. Parkinson’s law suggests that the work will always expend to fill the time available, so one-hour meetings will take an hour, but you could achieve as much in 45 minutes if you were all focused.

We could have 25 per cent less participants in many meetings. Meetings should be a participation sport, not a spectator sport. If two people are doing all the talking and six are looking on, they are spectators who may not add any value, or really need to be there. Finally, we could achieve a 25 per cent reduction in wasted group time by planning our meetings more effectively, and communicating clear objectives and agendas to the attendees. Maybe if we had more time to do, discuss and think, we would have to space to plan more focused and productive meetings. So, I reckon these all add up to 100 per cent less meetings. This tongue-in-cheek idea can be a great way to get your team on board with making your meeting culture more productive.

Meetings, when used properly, are a fantastic tool to collaborate and work with others. But they should be used with care, and with a clear knowledge that they are an expensive way of working for all involved. And while they cost real money in terms of the wages and overheads, the real cost is the opportunity cost that every person in every meeting has to pay.

Sydney-based Dermot Crowley is a productivity author, speaker, coach, trainer and thought leader. A 20-year veteran of the productivity training industry, he is the creator of the Smart Work program and is the founder and director of Adapt Productivity.

His passion for helping modern executives work more productively with their technology has led him to work with many senior executives and leadership teams in organisations such as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Citi, Deloitte, Allens Linklaters and KPMG. He is also the best-selling author of Smart Work (Wiley).