How much meeting time can you save?

Business_interaction_toolThe answer to this question clearly varies from organisation to organisation and from meeting to meeting. However, based on a survey from 2010, a realistic average would be 50% of all meeting time.

40-80% of meeting time is wasted …

The survey, conducted across a wide range of meetings, across 50 different organisations, across 11 different countries, reflected that 40-80% of meeting time is wasted in practice, and that much of wasted meeting time goes unrecognised. Its overall findings are included in this pdf, but the headlines are:

  • 39% of meeting time is lost because the meeting, or its participants, can add no real value at the point the meeting is held
  • 40% of meetings arise to address the consequences of shortfalls in previous meetings
  • And 39% of meetings arise purely to chase actions that are overdue from past meetings

There is clearly overlap in these figures – individual meetings which fit into more than one of these categories – but even if they overlapped entirely (which they don’t), over 40% of meeting time is currently wasted.

… largely due to a lack of data

While this figure will not entirely surprise many of those who attend meetings, and while their organisations are likely aware of this in anecdotal form, the reality is that most organisations lack the data to do anything about it.

Most organisations do not know:

  • How much time their people spend in meetings
  • How effective those meetings are in achieving their objectives
  • Whether this situation is getting better or worse

Furthermore, those people who design and run meetings have a far more optimistic view of their effectiveness and efficiency than the people who attend them – largely because people confuse communication with transmission and they lack the honest feedack to inform them otherwise.

While it is entirely realistic that the average organisation could save 50% of all meeting time, it is entirely unrealistic that they could effectively and sustainable do so without such data. Given the current pressures on management time and the fact that 50% of that time is concerned with meetings, accessing this data should be a priority.

But if meetings became better …

However, while better data could save 50% of time spent in current meetings, it may not be the best strategy to reduce meeting time by 50% overall. The reason for this is that, by making meetings more effective, time spent within them can have much greater impact over:

  • Engagement and commitment
  • Ideas and creativity
  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Speed of response
  • Teamwork and trust
  • Fulfilment, learning and growth
  • Competitive edge

And if management are to have more time on their hands, what better way to invest it than this?

… why not use them more?

Meeting effectiveness is both the enabler and the limitation to organisational performance. When we have the insight to better control its impact, then it becomes our choice whether we use that to do what we currently do more economically, or to achieve much much more with the same.