It doesn’t take a scholar to tell you that we all spend too much time in meetings these days. But when researchers like Professor Nancy Koehn of Harvard Business School show that half of all meetings are a total waste of time, we can at least hope that those single-minded meeting organizers will take note.
We’ve all dread them, but we continue to endure them. According to many, the meeting is the worst part of today’s American work culture. One employee Koehn interviewed who works in a shipping warehouse said he’d rather sustain a workplace injury than spend another afternoon in a rambling meeting. But it turns out that we might be right to hate them, since they can be a tremendous waste of time, money, and creative energy.
According to Professor Koehn, “Our best estimates — and these are pretty well researched — are there are 11 million formal meetings every day in the United States. That tallies up to about four billion a year. Over half of the people surveyed say about half the meetings they attend are unproductive.”
In other words, there are up to 2 billion – with a “B” – meetings every year that most attendees consider to be a poor use of their time. And that seems like a staggering waste, Koehn adds.
But despite the tedium and lost productivity, we continue to have meetings. Koehn argues that this is mostly a product of routine and habit – and in fact, while many would think that email communications have reduced the need for face-to-face meetings, it was actually contributed to more meetings because it’s now easier to invite a long list of people for a gathering, even when there’s not a great reason for doing so.
“Whether you could accomplish a goal some other way,” Koehn says, “We just hit send.”
Koehn recommends that meetings always begin and end on time, and that we limit them to a fairly brief period of time to complete the stated goal; practices like this can keep overall meetings more productive.