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Why Most Meetings are Huge Waste of Time

sleep is the enemy
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Of the many things I really hated about life in corporate in America, pointless meetings would have to be at the top of that list. But it didn’t become apparent to me just how much l hated them until I had to dial into a conference call from Costa Rica with the marketing team at my last company . When the marketing team decided to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the air conditioner in the office, I became convinced that most meetings are a complete waste of time.  Just so we’re clear I didn’t work at a company that sold air conditioners.

Not All the Participants Need to Be There

There have  been many meetings that I’ve sat in on where my contribution was probably 5 mins. But I was forced to endure a 45 minute discussion about things that had absolutely no relevance to my work. My business partner David was recently on a call with another one of our friends to discuss really hardcore techie stuff that would have made me want to gouge my eyes out. So I chose not to participate. If somebody doesn’t need to be in the meeting, don’t involve them. You’re just prolonging it.

Most Meetings Have no Purpose

One of the things I loved in Rework was the idea of not having meetings just because it’s Monday.  Many teams  seem to have a standing meeting that occurs on a certain day of the week. Ask why they’re actually meeting and they’ll say “because it’s Monday?” Not only is that answer completely moronic. It does absolutely nothing for the productivity of the business. If somebody can’t come up with a better reason to have a meeting than  “it’s monday’ the meeting should be cancelled.

Most Meetings Don’t Stay Within Time Limits

Have you had somebody call you and say “I’m so sorry. I was  in a meeting that ran a bit long.” I think that people should have strict time limits on meetings. This way things like 30 minute discussions about the air conditioner in the office are avoided.

Why Corporate Retreats Are Just Glorified Meetings

A few years ago I was working at a large market research company that had an annual meeting in Cancun.  Even though I heavily medicated myself with ADHD medication to survive the all day sessions that made my eyes glaze over, my boss decided to have a “talk” with me about the fact that I didn’t seem engaged. If I had told him the truth I would have said “you’re right. I’m bored out of my mind. Something tells me I’m not alone.”

Call me crazy but this is not much different than a typical meeting. All that’s changed is the backdrop. Yet this is how most annual meetings in paradise are conducted by companies.  We call this team building and productivity. Maybe the bulk of the time should be spent on recreation and only a small portion of time listening to presentations and sitting in meetings.

Ideas for Improving Meetings


Say it Via Email

Most of what is communicated in a typical meeting can be said via email. Usually the structure of meetings is somewhat of a round robin. Everybody says what they’ve been working on and team members prolong the meeting with their feedback.  If you’re a manager gather what everybody needs to say and sent it out in one email a week. Make sure your team members focus on the critical few things instead of the important many. The goal here isn’t to write War and Peace. If you need discussion setup some sort of message board or private blog and let people leave their feedback there.  If it’s another kind of meeting only involve the people who the conversation is relevant to and send them an email later if you think they need to know.

Stay on Topic

One of the biggest things that derails most meetings is the lack of people’s ability to stay on topic (as you know from my example above). The marketing team has no business discussing the air conditioner in the office. Come up with an agenda before the meeting and be disciplined about staying on topic.

Keep it Short and Sweet

Long meetings are not only pointless. They’re ineffective. There has to be a point of diminishing return in a meeting. I would say it occurs around the 1 hour mark. The shorter the meeting there better.

If I could say one thing about meetings, it’s simply this. Avoid them as much as possible. It seems to work for Seth Godin who doesn’t attend meetings. He seems to be doing ok for himself.


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