To Meet or Not to Meet: How to evaluate the efficacy of your company’s meetings

It’s a given: If you have a corporate job, you have to sit through meetings. But just how many meetings may surprise you. According to career site The Muse, the average middle manager spends about 35 percent of her day in meetings. That percentage continues to rise the higher up the ladder you climb—those in upper management positions report spending up to half their time in meetings each day.

In companies where collaboration and transparency are praised, calling a meeting seems like the best way to share ideas, create relationships and ensure everyone has the information they need. Unfortunately, inefficient meetings can have the opposite effect, wasting people’s time and becoming a drain on resources, productivity and morale.

So how do you make sure that you’re making the most of your meetings?

Let’s meet about it

The first step is to decide if you really need a meeting at all. “Too often, people fall into the trap of ‘I have information and I need to get it to somebody, so let’s meet,’” says Joe Staples, chief marketing officer at Workfront.

However, just passing on information is rarely a good reason to pull a group together. Instead, meetings should be saved for when a back-and-forth is needed. “The first ingredient of a good meeting is when someone wants to propose an idea and needs others to weigh in or push back—where there’s a give and take,” Staples explains.

Without that give and take, most meetings turn into nothing more than a status update, something that could be easily be done through email or a work tracking software.

“When we surveyed marketers last year, we found that only 36 percent of their workday was spent doing their primary job function. Much of the rest of their time was taken up by meetings,” Staples says. “If you could eliminate just status meetings, there’s a whole lot more work that could get done.”

Invite the right people

Everyone likes to be kept in the loop, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be invited to a meeting.

“Inviting people to a meeting is akin to the CC line in an email—it’s easy to start with the core people and then keep just adding,” Staples says. But extending invitations beyond those crucial to the conversation is not only a waste of time, it’s a waste of money.

Most companies are adept at scrutinizing spending, keeping an eye on everything from capital expenditures to lunch expenses, but they don’t often look at meeting costs with the same critical eye, Staples says. “When you say, ‘Let’s have a meeting and invite everybody,’ you’re spending thousands of dollars on that topic. I think people underestimate that.”

Fix the tech issues

Given the cost of a meeting, it’s important to make the most of out of everyone’s time. And the biggest time waster is often technology, whether it’s a projector that doesn’t project, a conference bridge that doesn’t connect or a video conference that’s missing audio.

Staples recommends setting aside seven minutes before each meeting to make sure the technology is ready. Otherwise, he says, “You spend the first portion of the meeting frustrating people and wasting their time.”

Your choice of technology should be based on what works most reliably. “If you can use a product flawlessly, use it,” Staples says. “But if you have issues every time you use it, go with the simplest form instead. If you have trouble with the video conference, it’s better to have someone on a phone line than waste time on technology that’s not working.”

Set clear objectives

Technology is not the only time waster. Often, the first 15 minutes of an hour-long meeting are spent explaining why everyone is in the room.

Staples say sharing background information before the meeting is the best way to increase efficiency during the meeting. “If you send out the information ahead of time, everyone can come into the meeting understanding the problem and you can dig right into how to solve it,” he says.

Not only should the meeting start with clear objectives, it should end with defined next steps that attendees understand and are held accountable for.

Evaluate the effectiveness

Though Staples is convinced that most Utah companies could get rid of half their meetings and still have plenty to go around, simply reducing the number of meetings shouldn’t be the objective.

“Face-to-face interactions in meetings are opportunities to build relationships and a system of trust within a company,” Staples says. “But there are good meetings and bad ones. As businesspeople, we need to evaluate which is which and take action to eliminate the bad ones.”