Have you ever left a meeting feeling equally or more confused than when it began? If so, you’re not alone.
Consider the following statistics:
- According to a study by Epson and the Centre for Economics and Business Research, office workers spend an average of 4 hours per week in meetings, more than half of which they feel is wasted time.
- 47% of businesspeople surveyed by Salary.com claimed that the number one waste of time at the office is “too many meetings.”
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses a total of approximately $37 billion each year.
- 45% of senior executives who responded to an OfficeTeam survey felt that employees would be more productive if meetings were banned one day each week.¹
Too often, meetings are managed poorly or held when unnecessary. What could have been accomplished in one hour instead stretches into three or four hours and leaves the attendees exhausted and confused. Instead, a good meeting should follow a set agenda and lead each participant to detailed next steps. Unfortunately, meetings are only one of the many areas in which today’s businesses manage employee time poorly.
Develop a strategy for time management
Take Google as an example. One of the most valuable brands in the world, Google is often lauded as the leader in management innovation today. The company operates under the 70-20-10 rule, which suggests that employees devote 70% of their time to core projects, 20% to peripheral but related projects, and 10% to non-core innovation. Although the appropriate division of time in your company may differ, Google’s approach is significant, because of the militancy of its implementation. Managers at Google set guidelines for their teams, and they hold employees to those guidelines.
You also can apply this strategy to meetings, such that 70% of the meeting is spent discussing core projects, 20% of the meeting is spent discussing growth initiatives, and the final 10% of the meeting is spent discussing “wild and crazy” ideas. If we use Apple as an example, the idea to build a car (which they are reportedly doing) probably emerged in that 10% and then gradually worked its way into the 20% as the vision became closer to reality.
Start from the top down
In order to develop guidelines for your team, start from the top down. Chart and evaluate how you and your employees spend time, and compare the percentage of time spent on various activities to the strategic priorities of those activities. By identifying the disconnect between your company’s time-management practices and strategy, you can determine where changes must be made.
Moving forward, ask all of the leaders in your company and the members of their teams to do this same charting and evaluation. Make them aware of the productivity lost as a result of poor time management and incentivize them to take charge of their time. Offer them guidelines for time management that are consistent with your company’s strategic goals, and watch their productivity soar.
Running effective meetings
Being mindful of allocating the right amount of time to the right activities consistent with your company’s strategy can have a significant effect on the number and quality of meetings that you hold. Before you set up a meeting, ask yourself, “Is this meeting needed? Is this meeting going to contribute to the company?” If it will, ask yourself whether the meeting needs to take place with all of the attendees physically in the same building? Or can the meeting take place via conference call or Skype?
Next, circulate the meeting agenda in advance so that attendees can review the items to be covered and arrive at the meeting prepared. Ensure that everyone—even the most senior people—arrives on time. If the meeting was important enough to be called, it is important enough that all attendees should respect one another’s time.
Start the meeting with an overall objective, and be clear about the time allotted for the entire meeting. Encourage all attendees to be fully present throughout the meeting, perhaps by asking them to turn off their cell phones, tablets, or laptops. Finally, wrap up the meeting promptly and properly, summarizing the next steps that have been agreed upon and who is responsible for each, so that the meeting generates momentum rather than kills it.
Review how the top managers of your company spend their days. Consider the following questions:
- How much time do they spend in meetings, and are those meetings productive?
- Do they leave each meeting with a list of detailed next steps and assigned responsibilities?
- Are they spending time on the right activities?
- Are they allocating time proportionally to your company’s strategic priorities?
- Are they managing their teams efficiently?
- Do they know how to run effective, efficient meetings?
Discuss your findings openly with the managers, and work together to develop strategies to improve efficiency and time management. Most importantly, make sure that you define expectations and standards so that your team doesn’t fall into old habits.
¹Tom Schulte, 5 Disciplines for More Productive Meetings (Omaha, NE: TS Consulting, 2013).