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Are Too Many Meetings Unproductive?

Date Published: Nov 28, 2022

Are too many meetings unproductive? This question rings in the heads of managers the world over. You glance at your schedule and it is chock-a-block full of meetings. You understandably wonder, Is this time well spent?

The answer is likely yes and no. Questioning the effectiveness of meetings is easy, but it takes effort to develop a system that increases meeting benefits. These five steps will guide you toward meeting improvements that enhance overall productivity.

First, the Good and Bad of Meetings

​Before diving into ways to increase meeting benefits, consider the pros and cons of meetings as a frame for the conversation.

Are Too Many Meetings Unproductive?

Meeting benefits:

  • Fosters a learning environment

  • Facilitates collaboration

  • Encourages information sharing and problems solving

  • Boosts innovation and creativity

  • Engenders a sense that all employees are valued

Meeting cons:

  • Interferes with deep thinking work

  • Reduces time spent by individuals on their work

  • Cuts down on the group’s time spent on collective work

  • Weakens decision-making with “too many cooks in the kitchen”

The key to maximizing the advantages and minimizing the disadvantages of meetings has to do with their frequency and the way they are run. In other words, the question should not be, Are too many meetings unproductive? Instead of focusing on the number of meetings, ask: How can I make meetings more productive?

To strike the right balance, we suggest that team leaders reach out to their reports as part of the process of advancing meeting effectiveness.

Step 1: Survey Your Team

Collect information from your working group to learn how meetings are affecting them. Use surveys, which can be anonymous if needed, and conduct interviews. Encourage complete honesty and transparency during this process. Inquire about:

  • How productive the meetings are

  • What could be improved during the meetings

  • If the meetings meet the stated goals

  • If the meetings help group and individual work

  • How the meetings are detracting from time and productivity

  • Are there any stressors or burdens connected to the meetings, especially regularly-scheduled meetings

Step 2: Review the Data Together

Review the collected information with your team. Present it in a way that is meaningful to them. You may want to categorize information according to time and finances with charts and graphs. Also highlight key figures, like the overall time spent by each individual and the group in meetings on a weekly basis.

Again, frame this group discussion as one that welcomes all input without judgment. The more forthright your team is here, the more impactful the process will be. Consider bringing in neutral facilitators to keep the conversation constructive.

Step 3: Establish Relevant, Personal Objectives

Creating goals that benefit individuals is a huge motivator for the entire team to work in tandem to develop effective meeting protocols.

For instance, your review may find that meetings are cutting into deep thinking work. A solution may be creating blocks of “deep work time” or “meeting free time” when workers cannot attend meetings. These designated hours allow employees to be more productive and creative. It may also be that fewer meetings are scheduled or fewer people attend as a result of blocked out time.

Your review may reveal that certain daily or weekly meetings are difficult for people to attend on a regular basis. This is especially the case for teams working across different time zones. An easy fix is giving workers a pass once a week or once a month to not attend these meetings with no questions asked.

Step 4: Set Group Rules

In addition to personal goals that give workers more freedom and flexibility, your team will likely need to set group meeting rules. Maybe your review found that meetings do not always have pre-established goals or were not consistently guided toward hitting goals. The group rule may then be that meeting objectives must be communicated in advance and decisions must be reached to meet the goal or make discernable advancement towards it.

Or, maybe a concern among staff is that too many people are distracted during meetings. Workers are checking their devices, or answering emails and messages. In these instances, a “no devices or messages” rule can be implemented to keep everyone focused.

If your team responds to the question - are too many meetings unproductive? - with a resounding - yes! - then consider batching meetings together and setting time limits on them. For instance, maybe Wednesday is a designated “meeting-free day.” A weekly team meeti