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The Most Wasteful Thing Most Companies Do

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I’ve visited companies all over the United States and Canada, and they are all very different. But there’s one thing pretty much every organization does which is incidentally, the biggest waste of money and resources.

Chances are you’ve heard of it. They are called “meetings.”

Business Meeting

© Flickr user Maryland GovPics

In order to understand why meetings are incredibly wasteful, we need to remember that meetings are filled with people and that people tend to value perception over reality.

The data on popular opinion is amazingly clear, and widely ignored. People really hate meetings. They want to get work done, and they feel that meetings prevent them from doing much work.

So what is it we are doing when we get together? Often, it’s simply us telling others what we have been working on. Here’s some statistics about worker perception of status meetings from Psychology Today:

40 percent of employees think status update meetings waste valuable time, and 70 percent say these meetings don’t help them get any work done.

Meetings are such a bad idea, some companies have chosen whole days to be meeting-free zones. A piece in Inc magazine explains:

Software company Asana has another approach: No Meeting Wednesdays.
Its policy is exactly as it sounds: Avoid meetings on this particular day of the week (unless absolutely necessary). What sets Asana’s policy apart from others is that it openly acknowledges that “managers” and “makers” prioritize their time differently. Employees, in other words, need time to create, a fact that the executive team acknowledges.

They aren’t the only ones banning meetings. In the Results-Only Work Environment (which we’ve discussed before here) meetings aren’t banned, but no one ever has to attend one. According to ROWE founders Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson:

In a ROWE, every meeting is optional. Even recurring meetings. Even “mandatory” meetings. Every meeting is optional.

Both of these practices may seem too extreme for your workplace, but the fact remains. People despise going to meetings. What should we do about them?

Compute the cost of meetings to decide whether you should have them or not. Reader PJ Christie pointed us at a cute meeting expense calculator which lets you see just how much your company is spending as the minutes tick by. It’s hard to imagine situations in which the value of a status meeting is greater than the cost of the meeting. Because usually if you need to relay the status of something, you could write it and have someone else read it. And better yet, along with the process of doing the work, we should also create a collaboration zone in which others can stay up to date.

Make ‘opportunity cost’ a common phrase. If there’s one concept everyone should have retained from that one economics class, it’s the idea of opportunity cost. This refers to what you don’t get because you did something else instead. The opportunity cost of going to the gym is what you could have done with that time instead of going to the gym. Bring up the words “opportunity cost” often enough that people know what they mean. Then discuss them when it comes to meetings.

Draw a distinction between work and talking-about-work. There are certainly some meetings that are beneficial, such as meetings for brainstorming or making decisions. Or, if you need to communicate about a sensitive topic, it make sense to get together with the relevant parties in person. But in many cases meetings are not actual work. Talk openly about the difference.

Sleeping at Work

© Flickr user gemsling

No matter how you decide to deal with the problem, keep in mind that most people think meetings are a waste of time. Even if you do have a reason to meet or you find a way to run them efficiently, you’re facing an uphill battle.

So cancel the meeting. It’s probably the right thing to do, anyway.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@LaceyEverett @thenerdherd @naptownbri @indystar Well, when the original source doesn’t answer the questions, people start to speculate. - 3 weeks ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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