When Bryan Stockton was pushed out as CEO of toymaker Mattel, he fingered a complacent company culture for dipping profits. In fact, he went one step further and blamed the lack of innovation on bad meetings.
Stockton’s story has been on my mind because I’m releasing a new book today called No Fail Meetings. Meetings are important but the way they’re being conducted in many organizations today is incredibly wasteful.
How wasteful? Some estimates peg the loss to American businesses of bad meetings as high as $37 billion annually. Many large companies lose as much as $75 million a year to bad meetings. I don’t care how big the company is – $75 million is a huge hit to the bottom line. In my book, I lay out a detailed plan for holding fewer, more effective meetings, and would encourage all leaders who are looking to get a handle on meetings to give it a read.
Fewer AND shorter
For this column, I want to focus on the shortening those important meetings that have to be held. It may be a challenge to both cut the number of meetings and their length at the same time. With fewer meetings, you might feel pressure to make the remaining meetings longer to make up for it, but that is a huge mistake.
Time on the clock is money. In meetings, that compounds. If you have a meeting of a half dozen or more people, one hour-long meeting can cost your organization hundreds of dollars. If it’s a meeting of the executive staff, thousands. If you halve not only the number but also the length of meetings, you’ll save a lot of company time and money for better uses.
Here are five tested ideas for how to get out of those meetings faster:
1. Schedule shorter meetings
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to the time allotted to it. That is absolutely true of meetings. One reason we spend so much time in them is that we schedule them too long. Consequently, conversations that should have taken ten minutes instead frequently stretch to fill a whole hour—and people’s eyes glaze over about halfway through.
A solution to this problem is simply to schedule shorter meetings. However, since the boss or manager usually runs a meeting, we can run into an obvious problem. Let’s say the half hour is up and she wants to keep talking?
2. Stick to the time limit
Don’t just cut her off and say, “Time’s up!” but a reminder that you’re going over doesn’t hurt. If you want to hack down the length of meetings, it’s best to have that conversation well in advance and agree that, in almost all cases, you’ll stick to the time limit or even break early.
It also helps to appoint a meeting facilitator, one of whose jobs is to say that time has almost been reached and is now up, people. The meeting facilitator serves other, vital functions for effective meetings that I detail in the book.
3. Have meetings off-site
You can use the venue to help enforce this time limit. At your office, there’s little to keep you from running long. But if you have a meeting room reserved off-site for a limited time, others can help you enforce the time limits. After all, others may need the space after. Or you can use virtual space to hold meetings and use applications with automatic cutoff times. When the app quits, the meeting’s over.
4. and 5. Plan and read ahead
Two other major reasons that meetings run so long is that we don’t do enough planning or reading ahead. If you go into the meeting with a detailed agenda and with people already up to speed on the issues up for discussion, you will better know where you’re going and what the obstacles are that have to be cleared out of the way.
Good meetings can be great
Meetings can be one of the greatest wastes of time and money in business, but they can also be some of the most effective ways to pool talent and collaborate on key projects. In other words, meetings can make or break your business. No Fail Meetings offers a proven process to stage high-level, successful meetings and avoid all the rest. What are you waiting for?