RX for Bad Meetings


In any group, in any industry, all we have to do is whisper the word, 'meeting', to elicit a groan, eye rolls and sighs. It’s no wonder. When I ask people what percentage of their time is wasted in meetings, the answer is always, always…at least 50% and often far higher.

It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out how much that costs our organizations in lost productivity, lost engagement, and morale. People truly hate these unproductive meetings for good reasons. It’s often because most meetings are poorly planned and poorly facilitated.

There’s real money on the table here How much, you might ask? That’s easy to estimate. Just add up and average the salaries in the room, then divide by 2080 (52 weeks X 40 hours a week) to establish an average hourly rate and then multiply that by 2 because it costs at least twice as much to have a meeting as the cost of the people in the room for the time they are there.There is travel time, the cost of the facility (heat/lights, overheads,etc.), admin time, prep time, follow-up time, and wasted productivity - unless the meeting creates or adds value to the attendees.

If cost of the meeting was represented by actual dollar bills in a fireproofbucket and set on fire after an unproductive meeting and for a productiveone, the money is saved for something worthwhile to the group, it would suddenly become very real.

I love meetings WHEN they produce something useful. And when they don't, I stop going. I gave up going to, or having, useless meetings nearly twenty years ago. Indeed, there are great meetings and important ones I'd never want to miss. There are plenty of fabulous reasons why people should have meetings, gatherings, and get togethers. We need to network, connect, learn, collaborate, decide, discuss, chew on ideas, mind-meld, team-build, brainstorm, and have fun together whether it’s virtual or in-person.

We have a serious meeting epidemic in this country. Adding the good ones andbad ones together equals a lot of meetings. It's a bit like global warming - it creeps up on you and before you know it, your life is one big meeting desert or tsunami or both, perhaps at the same time, and in the same meeting.

The meeting-itis epidemic continues to grow and spread. You'd think it was contagious. Maybe it is. The way meetings are run in your organization IS a result of your internal cultural norms and choices. These come directly from the skill or lack of skill of those planning, leading and facilitating meetings. We pass it on by demonstrating every day how we do things here. Therefore, every new person coming into your system is subject to, and generally conforms to, the same meeting norms as everyone around them. It becomes part of the cultural ‘atmosphere’ we all are touched by day in and day out.

Ask yourself, what contagious meeting ‘virus’ are you passing around your organization, starting with your team? Is it healthy and productive or unhealthy and unproductive?

Email didn't fix it. In fact, email overuse and abuse can contribute to bad meetings. Whiz-bang meeting software didn't fix it. Today, you can just throw on a t-shirt, sit at your computer, and be in a meeting with virtually
anyone, anywhere, anytime. Now, even if you are commuting, you could be on a call that's a meeting! How's that working for you?

Here are 5 "Do We REALLY Need a Meeting?" questions to answer before any meeting.

  1. Why are we having this meeting; what is the goal; what are the deliverables?
  2. Whose meeting is it and who is leading it?
  3. What kind of a meeting do we need to have? In person, on the phone, virtual, standing up, off-site, formal, informal, etc.
  4. Who should be there? Why?
  5. What are our meeting norms, and do I like them? If not, why am I going to this meeting and/or what am I going to do to change it?

If you would like to CURE the "meeting-itis" in your life, first answer those five questions and then consider a different approach. As a leader or influencer, (formally or informally), you are a steward of your organization's people resources; it's an important part of your job to make sure your time and others’ time is not wasted. When it is, you lose and they lose. That time and the money is actually cost you is gone forever. It cannot be recovered, reinvented, restored. It's gone. That’s why it’s important for everyone to pay attention to the quality and quantity of meetings.

The prevention of bad meetings and the purposeful creation of great meetings IS the meeting leader’s responsibility. Here are the three big things to consider: Planning, Agenda, and Logistics = PAL.


  • What are the objectives and the shared purpose for this meeting?
  • How will you accomplish your objectives?
  • Who will be there and are they the right people for the objectives and agenda?

Every item on your agenda should have one of, or a combination of, these three purposes: Information – Discussion -­ Decision

  • Information: No more than 20% of any meeting should be spent on information sharing – there are plenty of other and cheaper ways to share information other than meeting time.
  • Discussion: This means truly hearing from the attendees, getting their input and ideas. Have a method to do that well to gather all the wisdom in the room.
  • Decision-­‐making: Use best practices and have, or create, decision-making protocols so they can be made and made well.

This includes all the activities and techniques used to facilitate group dynamics and the meetings’ flow for your plan, and agenda, to work. There are a number of logistics to consider: live/virtual/hybrid, connection before content, checking in and wrapping up, group/team ground rules, in-person space, use of the time, food, breaks, activities, humor, technology, etc. These are not small matters when you consider how much you are investing in the meeting.

Begin by taking the time to ask yourself the five “do we really need a meeting” questions and decide how you can ensure your meetings are the ones people look forward to, and don’t want to miss. It’s worth it to prevent the loss of a lot of valuable resources and to eliminate the groans, eye rolls, and sighs.

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