How not to have a meeting

“I can’t wait for the next meeting, this is so exciting”

If you have ever heard someone say that then you are very rare. 

“Wasted time in meetings costs the UK economy £26 billion”

This was the headline of a 2012 piece of research from Epson supported by Cebr (source:

Other facts that it revealed were:

  • 2 hours 39 minutes: the number of hours workers feel are wasted in meetings during an average week
  • 49 minutes: the number of wasted minutes in meetings not made up for later
  • 10 hours or over: the amount of time one in five senior managers and directors say they spend in meetings per week
  • 11 minutes: the average amount of time it takes for people’s attention to drift in a meeting
  • Respondents thought that an average of 20 minutes was wasted in every meeting they attended 

I read once that the ego of a person calling a meeting dictates the number of people invited.

We would all agree that ideally a meeting leaves the participants with more energy, clarity and enthusiasm for what needs to be done than when they walked in.

So why then are they so incredibly painful for most companies?  

Mostly what happens with meetings is that they take place for no other reason than they always have. 

They are used like a blunt object supposedly to achieve a wide array of disparate ends. 

  • Let’s get everyone aligned. We’ll have a meeting.
  • We need to solve this issue, let’s have a meeting.
  • Let’s get it all out in the open so we can deal with it, let’s have a meeting.
  • This change affects everyone, we should meet.
  • Let’s plan to meet in three weeks and take it forward.
  • Should we set up a series of meetings to move this forward?
  • You have a meeting and let me know the outcome
  • And a hundred other reasons people call meetings (what are your favourite lame reasons?).
We have become like corporate zombies going through repeated motions because it has become habit. We have not stopped and thought more strategically about how to get things done. 
To avoid meetings ask yourself or your group the following questions.
  • What is it we want to achieve?
  • Why do we want to do this?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What is the best way of involving these people?
  • If a meeting has been suggested, are there alternatives other than a meeting that will be effective?
Following this process eliminates most meetings and moves you forward faster.
If you find yourself staring down the face of an unavoidable meeting, here is a way to ensure that the meeting works better than most. 
  1. Take leadership of the meeting even if you are not the person calling it. Work through the above questions to quickly get focused. 
  2. Decide how much time is needed (it is seldom an hour as Outlook or Google Calendar suggests by default).
  3. Make sure each person arrives at the meeting with their contribution prepared.
  4. If you need more than 30 minutes then most likely you haven’t done 1, 2 and 3 thoroughly enough
  5. Pick a facilitator for the meeting who is not involved in the content. Make it her responsibility to finish on time.
  6. Keep a list of off topic items to be picked up outside of the meeting and don’t get pulled down a rabbit hole when they come up.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon starts every meeting with his executives reading six page memos from each area. His belief, is that the communal reading guarantees undivided attention and by forcing his execs to write down their memo in narrative form , they have to think carefully about what they want to say. This is great practice and will certainly result in more focused and reduced meeting time. 

Wasting time in meetings







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Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.