Are You Taking Minutes and Wasting Hours? How to Cure Your Unproductive Meetings  by @HRTMExec

“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours are wasted.”  This popular phrase is often attributed to William Shatner’s Star Trek character, Captain James Kirk. It’s a humorous quote, but there’s nothing funny about unproductive meetings.

In fact, a Robert Half Management Resources survey reveals that workers consider 25 percent of the time they spend in meetings as wasted. Robert Half Management Resources is the world’s premier provider of senior-level finance, accounting, and business systems professionals on a project and interim basis. The survey of over 400 adult U.S. workers was conducted by an independent research firm.

Employees were also asked to identify routine mistakes made by meeting leaders (they could include more than one response). Their answers are as follows:

Not having a clear purpose or agenda for the meeting


Not sticking to an agenda


Not ending on time


Not starting on time


Inviting people who don’t need to attend


The top two culprits include a lack of purpose and a failure to stick to the agenda. However, according to Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, “Many times, leaders also fail to keep the discussion in line, allowing people to go off-subject, force their own agenda, or talk over others. Those who aren’t talking are more likely to simply check out of the conversation and focus on other issues, which doesn’t help anyone either.”

McDonald says another problem is that some leaders keep longstanding meetings on the calendar out of routine. However, they need to assess whether the meeting is necessary or merely obligatory.

We know that wasted meetings result in lost time and productivity, and they also disrupt workflow and can hinder creativity. However, McDonald warns that there are additional, more damaging ramifications.

“When bad meetings are more the rule than the exception, they hurt employee morale. Staff can become frustrated and feel their time is not respected. Managers can’t let bad meetings persist and hope their teams remain engaged and productive.”

So what can HR professionals do to ensure that their meetings – and the meetings of other leaders – are more efficient and effective? McDonald offers five tips:

  1. Before scheduling a meeting, determine if this is the best vehicle for achieving your objectives. For example, if you’re sharing information, would a group email be more effective?

  2. Make sure all of the attendees really need to be in the meeting.

  3. Prepare thoroughly to keep the meeting concise and ensure you are able to end on time.

  4. Don’t wait to start the meeting – begin at the scheduled time. If people arrive late, catch them up on what they missed later. If they understand you’re not going to wait for them, they’re unlikely to be late again.

  5. Finish strong. Recap the key discussion points and ensure those in attendance understand what they are responsible for and when the information/assignment is due.

McDonald also challenges leaders to consider alternative types of meetings:

  • Standing meetings are great from delivering updates in-person and keeping people focused. Since attendees can’t sit and get comfortable, they are less prone to become distracted or talk off-topic.

  • Walking meetings are good if you need to ask a quick question or address a brief issue. You can do this while taking a quick walk or going from one place to another, such as from your office to the water cooler.

  • Team-building events are another choice when there are no agenda items.  This keeps things interesting and builds morale.

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