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THE YCEO: 7 Ways Business Meetings May Be Killing Your Profits

The "Law of Two Feet" says that if you're not learning from or contributing to a meeting, you should get up and leave.

Meetings are a staple of office culture. Offices exist so that employees have the ability to collaborate, speak face-to-face and communicate effectively on projects and tasks that affect multiple individuals.

On the surface, then, meetings may seem like a productive tactic; led by a manager or supervisor, they provide opportunities for communication help get everybody up to speed and keep progress moving forward.

However, a serious problem occurs with the frequency and type of office meetings being held on a daily basis in the United States. By some estimates, larger companies may be losing up to $75 million every year because of unproductive meetings -- losses that often go unnoticed because they’re practically invisible.

If you’re still skeptical as to how something so simple and ingrained in our workplace culture can contribute to such a massive loss, here are seven ways in which meetings do just that:

1. They waste accumulated time.
There’s a misconception that an hour-long meeting is only an hour-long meeting. This isn’t the case: Consider an hour-long meeting with seven different people attending. If each person spends an hour in the meeting, the company is spending seven hours of time and money -- the equivalent of one person’s full workday.

In effect, the cost of every meeting you hold is amplified by the number of people attending, making these gatherings powerful time-wasters if they are not held productively or efficiently; in fact, the accumulated time we spend in meetings has increased every year since 2008, now amounting to 15 percent of our total time spent at work.

2. They’re tying up unnecessary resources.
Sometimes, the benefits of meetings are worth the extra costs. They serve as the perfect time to get a team together to solve a difficult problem or make a collective decision.

However, more often, meetings are composed of people who don’t need to be there. In Outlook and other scheduling products, adding people to the meeting is as easy as the click of a button, making it tempting to invite more people than is actually necessary. Some people add more people simply for the sake of adding artificial weight or importance to the meeting.

This practice, however, ties up human resources that could be much better spent at work to their areas of expertise. To combat this, A writer on Opensource.com recommended employing the "Law of Two Feet": If you attend a meeting, you must either be learning or be contributing. If you aren’t doing one of those two things, it’s your job to get up, leave and go somewhere you can.

3. Active participation Is rare.
We’ve all been caught in a meeting not paying attention. Maybe you spent the time daydreaming; maybe you spent it doodling' or maybe you spent it on your phone trying to catch up on other work.

Whatever the case, you weren’t actively engaged, and therefore wasted company time. Don’t feel guilty -- everybody does this. Active participation in meetings by all participants is incredibly rare, and without that participation, the meeting is at least somewhat wasted. This is usually an unfortunate result of unnecessary parties or meetings held for a non-essential reason.

4. They interrupt creative trains of thought.
Even people in non-creative positions must spend a great deal of time thinking creatively to solve abstract problems or come up with critical new strategies.

As you’re undoubtedly aware, preserving the momentum of your creative thinking is essential to seeing the problem through. Your focus, if unbroken, allows you to get “in the zone” and get more work done while helping you find new, lateral solutions. Stopping that train of thought just to go to a meeting can derail the entire process, leaving you without a solution and forcing you to start from scratch the next time you jump back in. On top of that, some studies indicate that we need up to 25 minutes to rebuild our focus on a task after we've gotten distracted.

5. Few meetings are held for the sake of progression.
Think about how many meetings of the past week were centered on trying to advance the company in some way -- whether that involved working together on a project or hammering out a new strategy.

Chances are, most of your meetings are not held for these reasons. Instead, they've likely been recaps, updates or other conversations that opened a dialogue but don’t really get anything done. For example, one high-earning company recently found out that it was spending 300,000 hours a year on a weekly meeting that didn’t really accomplish anything. The company quickly called the meeting off.

Because meetings of this type don’t actually accomplish any work, they’re costing more money than they’re making.

6. Few meetings are formally organized.
This is the biggest problem facing meetings today, and it can lead to many of the other problems on this list. Few meeting organizers take the time to establish the purpose for a meeting and to make a specific agenda. When formally planned, a meeting can stay on topic. It's also easier to find the right participants for a meeting, meaning more people able to prepare and participate.

Without that formal planning, meetings tend to wander; they're aimless and purposeless. This is especially apparent in recurring meetings, such as daily or weekly sit-downs, which explicitly have no purpose other than bringing people together to talk. One easy solution for this is to set a strict maximum time limit for meetings; Bain & Company once studied a manufacturer that saved the equivalent of 200 jobs just by cutting meetings down to 30 minutes.

7. Most meetings can be replaced with other forms of communication.
Communication formats are diverse, and today’s technology makes them even more diverse. There’s no reason to have a meeting if another form of communication will suffice. For example, you can send an email if you’re just trying to update the group on the latest company developments. You can send an IM if you’re having a problem and need help. You can have a face-to-face conversation with an individual or two it you’re trying to settle some confusion. Meetings are often the default form of communication within a company, and there’s no reason for that.

Abandoning meetings altogether would be a bold and unnecessary move, though some companies (like Project eMT) have taken this step. In most mid- to large-sized businesses, such a drastic change to office culture would be nearly impossible to initiate and would also eliminate that minority of highly productive meetings which do drive the business forward.

Instead, focus on making small yet meaningful changes. If you’re considering calling a meeting, think critically about whether you really need one and whether you can replace that gathering with an alternate form of communication. If a meeting is required, only call in staffers if they’re absolutely necessary; and create an agenda in advance that is concise, to-the-point and clear enough that your participants can prepare.

On the other side of things, don’t be afraid to decline meeting invitations if you feel you have nothing to add. Ask questions, and prompt the meeting organizers to send out a specific agenda before the meeting is held. Over time, you can help to reshape the meeting culture of your workplace, and spend more time focusing on productive work.


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