Is Your Business Wasting Time and Money on Unproductive Meetings?

In Harvard Business Review‘s interviews with hundreds of executives in retail, tech, pharmaceuticals, and more, many participants indicated that they were overwhelmed by their meetings.

“I cannot get my head above water to breathe during the week,” said one executive. One woman even admitted to stabbing her leg with a pencil to keep herself from screaming out with frustration during an unusually torturous staff meeting.

According to some research, meetings have increased in both length and frequency over the past 50 years. Additionally, executives are spending nearly 23 hours a week in meetings—not including impromptu gatherings.

That’s not to say that meetings aren’t essential for facilitating collaboration, creativity, and innovation. And they also help to cultivate relationships and ensure the proper exchange of information.

But while meetings can provide real benefits, more often than not, they don’t accomplish their purpose (assuming they actually have one). Check out the findings of a Harvard Business Review survey of 182 senior managers from a range of industries:

  • 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work
  •  71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient
  • 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking (the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task)
  • 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.

How to Make the Most of Your Company Meetings

Nationally syndicated columnist Dave Barry once stated:

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved and never will achieve its full potential that word would be ‘meetings’.”

Meetings don’t have to hold you back, though. They can be effective instruments for change, as well as improving communication, integration, productivity and job satisfaction.

Read on for 6 tips to help make your company meetings more productive:

1. Make the purpose of your meeting clear

Surprisingly, more than 60% of meetings don’t have prepared agendas, a simple step that can cut unproductive meeting time up to 80%.

Consider sending an agenda and any supplemental materials ahead of time so people know what you’ll be covering in the meeting.

2. Start your meeting on time & stick to a time limit 

You should always start meetings on time and don’t use up use valuable minutes trying to update late arrivals. Limit the length of the meeting to one hour or less, if possible, and be sure to end the meeting on time.

3. Set the right tone for your meeting

Managers are responsible for making sure that people feel comfortable enough to contribute. “You’re there to be a steward of all the ideas in the room,” says Harvard Business Review.

Adopt a learning mindset for the meeting. Don’t monopolize the time trying to convince people of your viewpoint. Rather, be open to hearing the perspective of others.

4. Control ramblings and tangents

While it can be tough to cut off ramblers, sometimes it can’t be helped. You might say something like, “You’re absolutely right, Bill. Is it alright if we talk about that later?” Consider speaking to those who tend to be long-winded ahead of time or during a break, asking them to keep their comments to a minimum to ensure that others have an opportunity to be heard.

Meetings can quickly degenerate when people bring up irrelevant topics. Try to redirect their focus to the stated agenda.

5. Don’t use meetings as status updates

Meetings should not be used for updates or information distribution that can easily be handled by email or other convenient and effective communication channels.

6. End the meeting with an action plan

A productive meeting needs to set the stage for the work to continue. Create an action plan based on your meeting, establishing tasks and deadlines you will hold your team responsible for achieving. Don’t forget to record the answers and send out an email so that everyone is on the same page.

7. Collect Feedback

To get a clearer view of how meetings affect your employees, use surveys or interviews to get feedback from every individual. This will help you determine if your team finds the meetings productive, what ideas they may have for improvement, and how much work they’re able to get done during days that are interrupted by company gatherings. Discuss everyone’s feedback as a team to see what’s working and what is not.


Whether you’re a retail store or a small tech company, meetings are an important part of fostering collaboration, creativity, and innovation, as well as cultivating relationships and ensuring the proper exchange of information.

But you must have a clear purpose for your meeting, along with an agenda, and time limitations to make sure your gatherings are productive.

When your meetings are better, your work life will be too.

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.