Why cutting down meeting time is crucial for productivity?


Why cutting down meeting time is crucial for productivity?

June 17, 2020

If asked, which is the biggest time-consuming culprit in your office? Then most of the employees will unanimously answer it’s ‘meetings’.

Yes. The definition and the sole objectives and outcomes of the office or team meetings have changed. The purpose of the meeting was to get the team together to discuss an important agenda and conclude with an outcome. It meant organizing meetings for those discussions which needed every relevant person’s attention and opinion.

But of late, the objectives have changed. As per a Workplace Insight article, over 51% of employees agree that meetings without a clear agenda result in wasted time, 32% cite lack of decision-making, 31% have observed lack of follow-up, 26% say there’s a lack of preparation, and 25% say the latecomers affect their schedule.

Now there are more than required meetings happening across teams and organizations. Both the frequency and the duration of these meetings have extended too. The gravity of the meeting has diminished. Now it is considered a sheer waste of time.

How meetings consume more time?
If observed closely, it can be seen that there are essentially 3 types of meetings going on in the office spaces:

  1. Meaningful meeting with actually some agenda and outcomes
  2. Short meetings to discuss not-so-important topics
  3. Long meetings which start with some clear agenda and then wander off to some other multiple irrelevant discussions

These meetings serve multiple unuseful purposes like:

  1. Wasting individual work time - employees don’t get enough time to complete their individual tasks.
  2. Wasting the team’s time - some meetings are poorly designed, leading to inefficient productivity and collaboration.
  3. Sometimes wasting both the individual and team’s time - high-quality meetings which take an individual’s time and its poor scheduling eliminates the time for critical thinking.

Additionally, it also takes time to actually initiate the meeting, as not everybody arrives as per the schedule.

One of the Entrepreneur articles states that on average, the workforce spends 15% of their time in meetings. This is a significant amount of time going into discussions. So, it’s time to stop and think do the workplaces really need so many meetings? Can these be replaced by emails or calls or face-to-face conversations?

How to tackle this menace?
The Internet is flooded with solutions for tackling the wastage of time due to meetings. Some of them are:

  1. Saying No
    Learning to say no to unimportant meetings is something every employee needs to inculcate. Not every meeting is relevant to every individual, and if they feel like they cannot contribute to the discussion in any way, then it’s in everyone’s best interest to not attend that meeting. This saves both the individual’s time and the meeting duration.
  2. Cancelling trivial meetings
    Continuous setup of meetings may lead to some useful meetings which can be avoided by direct or in-person conversations. Such meetings solely are a sheer waste of time. If possible, the authorized person should be able to recognize such deviations and cancel those meetings.
  3. Setting a time limit
    And sticking to it. This is very crucial as many a time it happens that people tend to deviate from the main topic and start discussing something else. Thus not only leaves the agenda of the meeting, and ends with no positive outcome, but also wastes everyone’s time.
  4. Creating an action plan
    Meetings should always have a purpose. And more importantly, there should be an action plan defined out of that purpose. Any meeting that ends unactionable is worthless. It will lead to another meeting to discuss the action plan. A survey by Post-it found that 51% of the employees reported forgetting the purpose of a meeting while they were in it, and 26% said that they had forgotten a task assigned to them during a meeting. This defies the whole purpose of the meeting. So the organizers need to make sure that they get actions delivered out of every meeting.

    While these are definitely some useful suggestions, it’s all temporary and individualistic. A study by Harvard Business Review has very meticulously described and discussed the whole meeting issue of the corporate world. As per the study, what is really needed is deep-diving into the problem and get to its roots. Making a strategy and introducing structural change will be truly beneficial for the organization and its employees.

What insightful actions are needed?

  1. Team/organization survey
    Solving this issue is not an individual task, the whole team needs to be united to bring out the solution. Each employee should be asked their opinion - how effective are the meetings for them/team, how can they be improved, etc. Gather the data from everyone to get a holistic view of the matter. A better way to do is to send a hidden-identity survey so that the employees can really open up about their opinions.
  2. Data interpretation & implementation
    Knowing what the employees are thinking is very important. Once the data is collected, understand what the consensus is. If the majority thinks that the meetings really are getting worthless and a source of time consumption, then it’s time to ponder upon the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’. Why the meetings are becoming futile, and how the organization as a whole can help in modifying the system.
  3. Analyze the goals and monitor
    This is very important. A monitored goal never goes in vain. Keeping track of the agenda and the actions taken for it gives real-time feedback about the progress and rectifying it on-time to avoid future delays. Small steps towards modification and improvement save a lot of time and effort in a larger picture.

How to utilize the saved time?
The next question now comes - how to utilize the time saved through cutting down meetings? That is a legit question. Because nobody wants that the precious time saved goes again in waste. So here are a few productive alternatives:

  1. Finish off personal work
    This is the priority. After all, the meetings were mainly consuming this section of the daily work. Make use of the time to clear off pending tasks and strike off the to-do list. Make this a habit to be punctual and being always on-time for any task delivery.
  2. Let the creativity flow
    Something that gets very little time during the working hours. This is a good opportunity to grab the time and let the creative juices flow. The employees can use this time to think about how they can make their tasks or assignments or projects more fresh and creative by bringing new perspectives. The leader can organize some quiz or internal team competition to encourage teams to think out of the box. This activity may seem more of wasting time, but in the long run, this is what keeps employees motivated and active, and the team agile by helping them think on the feet.
  3. Networking
    Networking is beneficial for both the individual and the team or organization. It develops healthy inter- and intra-departmental relations. Building personal relations can help in getting things done, which otherwise would get difficult. It also gives a chance to associate with new people, which can be productive, as discussions with new people give new insights on different matters.
  4. A different kind of meeting
    A regular meeting can be replaced by a rather informal internal meeting for the team. It can act as a catalyst for team bonding, which is quite essential for a team. Employees can speak up on personal matters, how they feel in the office, what motivates them, their mental state, etc. Such activities help in growing as a team and the results are reflected in their work.

    Having said all this, it does not mean that meetings are completely redundant and the organizations should stop scheduling any more meetings. Meetings are, in fact, a core part of any organization and team. Done the right way, it can bring enormous positive changes in the company’s output and employees’ productivity. The only thing needed to keep in check is its gravitas and not doing for the sake of it. The important part to remember here is, a productive meeting delivers productive work and a productive team.

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