Have you ever stopped to consider how much “marathon meetings” and “it’ll just take a minute – really” impromptu discussions really cost your company?  Consider this example:

A weekly meeting with 6 people, making an average of $20 per hour, costs your business $120 per hour.  If you waste just 15 minutes of that time (catching up with one another, engaging in off-topic discussions, waiting for late attendees, etc.) the total yearly cost of that waste comes to $1,560! 

Multiply that by the number of weekly meetings in your company, factor in the additional cost of non-essential meeting attendees, and what do you have?  A lot of squandered time and money.

Obviously, you can’t completely abolish meetings.  In many cases, there is no effective substitute for real-time, face-to-face interaction.  But given how expensive meetings are, you need to make the most of them.  This article will help you get some of your valuable time and money back – and really boost productivity – by making sure every meeting is productive and essential.

Abolish “status update” meetings.  If all you’re doing is letting one another know where current projects/clients stand, or distributing facts, use e-mail or project management software to stay in sync.

Try “standing” meetings.  People’s tendency to drone on, endlessly reiterating points and listening to the sounds of their own voices, will dwindle as they get weak in the knees.  By design, standing meetings – yes, meetings where attendees actually stand rather than sit – are more actionable.  Try a few out and see if they work for your company.

Invite only essential personnel.  Consider whether everyone you’re planning to invite really needs to attend.  To help you decide, determine whether a follow-up e-mail outlining the meeting’s outcome would be sufficient information for a potential attendee.  If so, he may not need to actually attend.

Start on time.  If attendees trickle in over the first 10 minutes, it’s difficult to accomplish anything during that time.  Make a company-wide pledge to start meetings on time, using these tips to make the commitment a reality:

  • Clearly communicate the start and end times for the meeting.
  • Make the meeting leader responsible for e-mailing attendees 10 minutes before the meeting’s start time.
  • Have the meeting leader call, or stop by the office of, people who are habitually late to meetings.
  • Start the meeting on time, even if people are running late.  When latecomers arrive, ask them to catch up with someone else in the group to find out what they missed.
  • Make latecomers conspicuous to everyone, by holding the meeting in a location where they can’t just sneak in late (if possible, have the meeting leader seated by the door, so everybody will notice when a straggler comes in).

Follow an agenda.  Pilots don’t take to the skies without flight plans; meeting leaders shouldn’t conduct meetings without agendas.  Make sure attendees receive the agenda ahead of time, sending it in the body of an e-mail (attachments are often overlooked) unless it’s extraordinarily lengthy.  Having and following an agenda shows that you’re organized,have a valid purpose for the meeting and respect others’ time – while giving the meeting higher perceived value.  Your agenda will also help you stick to the topic(s) at hand and avoid getting derailed on tangents.

Allow one person to speak at a time.  Remind attendees (and correct them, when necessary) that side conversations are thoughtless, distracting and disrespectful to the person speaking.  Foster a meeting culture where good listening skills are required.  Your meetings will become instantly more productive when each attendee gives the speaker his full attention.

Remind attendees that time is money.  When your meetings fall into a vortex of idle banter and non-productive speculation, remind the group that time is money.  Use the example at the beginning of this article to help make the cost of wasted meeting time real to everyone – and then get them back on track.

Record decisions.  Important decisions are often made at meetings, but within a few months, nobody remembers why.  Ensure this doesn’t happen by taking adequate notes – not just on what was decided, but why it was decided.  You can use these notes in lieu of traditional minutes to share the meeting’s contents with people who need to know what happened.  Just make sure they’re stored in a place that’s accessible and searchable.

Finish with a review of action steps.  Before you leave, ask each person to sum up their action items in 30 seconds or less.  In the process, you will eliminate redundancies and may even discover a few action steps that were missed.

End on time.  If you ask attendees to arrive on time, show that you respect them by ending on time, too.  Throughout the meeting, refer back to your agenda and provide interim time checks to participants to help keep things moving along.  If you’ve scheduled adequate time and stuck to your agenda, ending on time shouldn’t be too difficult.  Who knows, by using the ideas here, you may even be able to finish the meeting a bit early.