It’s well known that companies waste a lot of time and money organizing and having meetings. We waste time endlessly emailing to find time-slots that suit everybody. We waste time waiting for everyone to arrive. We waste time discussing irrelevant points and tangential agendas.
Senior executives say more than half their meetings are “ineffective” or “very ineffective,” a recent Bain & Company survey found. One large company studied by the consultants wasted a total of 300,000 hours a year as a result of just one weekly executive meeting, such was the “ripple effect” of one meeting leading to another. Moreover, Bain says the problem is getting worse. The amount of time devoted to meetings has increased each year since 2008, partly because meetings are now easier to organize and, because of video-conferencing technology, we no longer all have to be in the same room.
How much does all this undirected activity cost? For an answer, take a look at this useful little calculator created by the Harvard Business Review. Say five people have a meeting lasting 30 minutes and each person involved earns a salary of $60,000. That costs the company $105. Or, say you organize an hour-long meeting for 10 people and the average salary is $80,000. The cost is $560. Or what about an hour-long meeting for a whole department (30 people) where the average salary is $50k? That costs $1,015, not including coffee and cake (benefits are included though). You have to ask yourself: Is your meeting resulting in decisions that generate enough revenue to make it worth it? This is doubtful.
When salaries are really high, as in the company Bain studied, the results can be jaw-dropping. That weekly executive meeting cost a total of $15 million, even though a lot of what went on didn’t translate into noticeable improvements in services, operations and products–i.e. the stuff companies are supposed to be focused on.
Bain suggests some possible fixes, including having “clear and selective” agendas, avoiding “initiative creep” (where one project piles upon another), and minimizing the number of people with the authority to call meetings in the first place. “Time is an organization’s scarcest—and most often squandered—resource,” the consultants say. “No amount of money can buy a 25-hour day or reclaim an hour lost in an unproductive meeting.”