Meetings: are you really getting your work done?
Corporate Culture

Meetings: are you really getting your work done?
Optimising workplace conversations

July 18, 2022

Meetings are an integral part of the fabric of the workplace, and they say a lot about your company’s culture. Ones that are drawn out may indicate less value for employee time, or more value for discussion. They play multiple roles: from being a social activity for building work relationships, to providing clarity and direction for projects.

Another interesting way to look at meetings; can the way they’re conducted inform the efficiency with which work gets done? A touchpoint without a proper time slot, or clear agenda, runs the risk of muddling people’s task priorities. It could slow the cadence with which work gets done.

Now consider this: research finding report that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years. The magnitude of the problem is seen in the numbers: executives spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.¹

The impact

Poorly organised meetings cost companies a huge amount of time and money every year. An important study calculates that the UK alone lost $45 billion in 2019 due to unproductive, unclear meetings, with 44% of all survey participants stating that poor organisation means they don’t get time to finish daily tasks.²

Consequences of poorly organised meetings

Organisational hierarchies have changed. Now that start-ups, smaller teams, and hybrid work are much the norm, employees are more empowered to be self-directed. The assumption is employees have information and potential which can be tapped through discussion. Meetings are the vehicle of choice. But this can lead to ‘input-focus’ modes of working, rather than output.

Unsurprisingly, this has a big impact on job satisfaction. People with a strong desire to accomplish work goals may report lower satisfaction levels as meetings get decidedly unproductive. On the other hand, less goal-oriented people may find unproductive meetings desirable, as it ‘feels’ like accomplishing something. Letting star employees disengage, and unproductive employees coast, spells serious danger for businesses.

The bottom-line

Short and long-term goals cannot be accomplished when teams fail to link the structure (content, frequency and duration) of their touchpoints to the job that needs to be accomplished.³ But to fix this problem is to recognise that it is systemic. Setting an agenda, taking minutes, and keeping time are surface-level solutions. So how do we ensure sustainable change to the consequences of meeting madness? Leadership can start by digging deeper:

1. Get everyone's input

Get some one-to-one time with people you manage. Gathering data from individuals will paint the best picture of how people are feeling. This helps figure out what exactly makes your employees tick: is it the unclear agenda, duration, resentment for individual ramblers, or something else? You’ll also learn how much work really gets done in the day.

2. Understand the data together

Come together as a team to discuss findings, grievances, and ways to move forward. An open discussion with neutral arbiters will empower employees to speak their minds and get into specific issues more deeply. Remember, analysis from all team members ensures follow-through of solutions by all team members as well. So make sure everybody gets an ear, and a say.

3. Emphasise personal benefit

Show, don’t tell. Designate a certain amount of time in the week for independent work, both at the office and at home. Designating ‘meeting free’ periods takes this a step further, forcing employees to evaluate the necessity of meetings normally scheduled at this time, and who really needs to attend. This may increase individual productivity by giving teams some time back.

4. Monitor milestones

Create measurable milestones for iterative wins or opportunities for correction. For example, if the problem with meetings is distracted employees (due to phone or laptop use), don’t allow outside technology at meetings. The new policy may face backlash or need several reminders to stick. Ultimately, you’ll see the positive change when employees are more engaged and input increases.

5. Check in regularly

Encourage open conversations about meetings and other work processes. This helps ‘pulse-check’ whether the new protocol is gaining momentum or falling flat. Getting a head start encourages teams to nip problems in the bud and reorient.

The SHAPE survey’s integrated analytics and top-to-bottom approach make it the most comprehensive employee performance survey in the world. The 12 Explorer topics and question level reporting provide insight into what matters most to your employees, and what isn’t working. Everything is on display to understand, act, and succeed.


¹Steven G. Rogelberg, C.S.and J.K., 2007. The science and fiction of meetings. MIT Sloan Management Review. Available at: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-science-and-fiction-of-meetings/ [Accessed July 17, 2022].

²Anon, 2019. The State of Meetings, 2019. Doodle. Available at: https://doodle.com/en/resources/research-and-reports-/the-state-of-meetings-2019/ [Accessed July 17, 2022].

³Axtell, P., Schwarz, R. & Saunders, E.G., 2016. A step-by-step guide to structuring better meetings. Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/04/a-step-by-step-guide-to-structuring-better-meetings [Accessed July 17, 2022].

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