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Why companies should reduce meetings to boost productivity


Many companies hold meetings thinking they drive accountability and improve productivity but it often has the opposite effect.

The MIT Sloan Management Review recently surveyed many managers and even before the pandemic, 71 per cent thought meetings were costly and unproductive. The study, published in 2022, indicated today’s knowledge workers typically spend more than 85 per cent of their time in meetings which studies show negatively affects people’s psychological, physical and mental well-being.

“Leadership should adopt a zero-based budgeting approach to meetings, meaning every meeting should be justified to be of high-value use of an employee’s time and talent, and directed toward high-value outcomes,” said Kim Baker, principal at Vivid Performance Group.

Baker suggests that executives should make a list of every recurring meeting then consider it eliminated. They should add it back only if they can justify that it has a defined purpose that serves an overarching strategy, or initiative or is to actually perform work.

“The only people who should be invited are the ones who have skin in the game to get the work done. Inviting folks who contribute nothing, take away nothing, and will do nothing, is a time suck and promotes social loafing among the entire group.”

Each meeting should also include non-negotiables such as a meeting norm that “we start on time and end on time”, a defined agenda, and a statement of desired meeting outcomes. Also, a statement at the beginning of what will be needed from participants is needed focusing on input/advice, ideation, decision making, commitment/s, and other options. If multiple topics/goals exist there might be multiple asks of the participant.

“Must-haves include a timekeeper and scribe to record key discussion points and action items with assigned responsible parties. Then use a recap format in which each person states their assignment and time frame for delivery,” she said. “This is a critical step to ensure shared understanding and timelines.”

Some companies are truly getting the advantages of meetingless workdays. The Sloan report surveyed 76 companies with more than 1,000 employees. Nearly half reduced meetings by 40 per cent. Some eliminated meetings entirely.

Interviews with company leaders and HR executives found autonomy, communication, engagement, and satisfaction all improved resulting in a decrease in micromanagement and stress, and an increase in productivity.

“For companies looking to boost productivity the proof is clear, schedule fewer wasteful meetings,” Baker said. “It will result in less negativity in the workplace, happier team members and a positive impact on the bottom line.”

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