Meetings: a waste of time?

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A whopping 80 per cent of UK workers believe most of their work meetings are unnecessary or unproductive, according to research.

An international survey of over 2,000 workers has revealed that in the UK, eight in ten respondents said they waste time by attending at least half of their meetings because they are unstructured and result in no defined actions – questioning why the meetings are called in the first place.

And with unproductive meetings costing businesses thousands per year, the cost to UK plc runs into millions.

According to Susan Major, director of human resources recruitment at Robert Walters, which commissioned the survey, meetings are an essential part of business and the average executive level employee will attend two to three meetings a day.

“But there is a question whether some of these meetings are worth it,” she says. “If they are wasting valuable working hours and nothing comes out of it then it’s pointless for the employee and their company. Meetings should be productive let’s not have meetings for the sake of it.”

Other findings show that less than one in ten people around the world truly believe in the effectiveness of meetings. The Japanese are the strongest supporters of meetings, closely followed by the Irish, while in South Africa meetings tend to be least productive.

“Good planning and preparation increases the effectiveness of meetings, which saves everyone time, saves organisations money and may also help to reduce employee frustration,” adds Major.

Tips from Robert Walters to improve the productivity of meetings:

  • Agendas A meaningful agenda is vital to any meeting. Make a specific list of what should be accomplished in the meeting and tick these off as you go through them
  • Priorities As a group, prioritise items on the agenda in order of importance and then allocate time to be spent discussing each issue
  • Timing Consider the time of day the meeting is being held. People are usually more creative and switched on in the morning and tend to be sluggish after lunch. It is also important to ensure that the meeting begins and ends on time to avoid frustration. If a meeting is running over, people are thinking about what they are missing at their next appointment or what emails are sitting in their inbox, not what is happening in the meeting.
  • People Ensure only the right people are invited to the meeting. Assemble a group of people who can actually come up with new ideas, help solve the problem or benefit from being involved in the meeting. Try to ensure the issue’s key decision makers attend the meeting.
  • Evaluation At the end of the meeting, evaluate its effectiveness by checking the agenda to ensure all items have been discussed and ask participants for feedback.
  • Follow up Establish an action plan at the end of the meeting and assign responsibility and timelines for tasks. It is also useful to determine discussion points for the next session to enable participants to begin thinking about what they need to prepare.


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19th Oct 2006 19:46

Thanks to Robert for some useful tips.

Can I ally this to another question that has been puzzling me for years? - until today. "Why does the Public Sector tend to have such vast banks of diary-managing PAs, when they are by comparison such a rarety in the Private Sector nowadays?" (- at least until we enter international mega-biz territory).

At least part of the answer to my question came from an interview with a manager in a national newspaper today who moved from the international private sector to join a large northern Local Authority to manage a large change management programme, who reflected on how many more meetings senior people tend to have in the UK Public Sector than in the Private Sector he had experienced more globally.

His suggested solution was: empower many more staff to make more decisions themselves (and so hold fewer meetings).

This may be somewhat 'innocent' - the Public Sector tends to be far more risk averse not the least because indeed it does tend to be less empowered, which is a political issue and perhaps not a managerial one.

But not a bad lesson for us all to consider in any sector? Far fewer (formal) meetings - and then more productive ones? That applies *just* as much to the Private Sector!

Kind regards


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29th Nov 2006 09:17

This is a serious question. People and organisations don't do things without reasons/rewards. So who is getting what out of bad meetings?

if it is as easy as Robert Walters makes it sound, why aren't all meetings brilliant?

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