How to Combat Meeting Fatigue and Increase Productivity

U.S. businesses waste $37 billion in unnecessary meetings each year, according to Verizon. Let me put that number in perspective for you. In 2014, Apple made $39 billion, according to Fortune. That means U.S. businesses lose almost as much as Apple makes each year by having meetings that aren’t necessary. So how do we stop wasting time and money and gain back that productivity we’re losing?

Jack Welch had a solution. The legendary CEO who presided over General Electric for 20 years was renowned for being direct and straightforward. He would regularly walk the halls of GE’s offices and manufacturing locations and have brief stand-up meetings with executives and frontline workers. These “stand ups” kept everyone on their toes. He shortened important meetings to only 10 minutes. These short, highly-focused meetings where each participant updated team members quickly and efficiently was ingrained into the culture of GE.

So how do we achieve Welch’s meetings vision? Here are 3 tips for making meetings more productive.

“We have to be the change we want to see.”

1. Identify the culprit. One of the most powerful things you can do to stop meeting creep is analyze who is doing the requesting. Take an informal poll of management meetings your company has held over the last 60 days and you may learn only one or two people are responsible for more than 75% of a company’s meetings. Have a direct conversation asking them to engage in less-structured conversations. This not only will free them up to be more productive, but also free up the rest of your leadership team, as well.

2. Take a hard long look at yourselves. We have to be the change we want to see. Since our employees take their cues from us, are we calling meetings only when necessary? If not, we should start substituting formal meetings for well-crafted emails, simple chat messages, or even good old fashioned, brief, face-to-face informal conversations.

3. Rattle the cage. Instead of just automatically accepting the next meeting request, consider your return on investment. Will this meeting help you achieve your goals? Is attending this meeting the best use of your time? If not, encourage your direct reports to rattle the cage by politely declining the meeting request. Even polite declines may unnerve people at first, but that is OK. Did the team really need 60 minutes to discuss proper communication protocol?

That Verizon paper I mentioned earlier also found that most of those who have meetings on a regular basis admit to daydreaming (91%), and a surprising 39% say they have actually fallen asleep. Maybe they were on to something!

If you resolve to challenge the status quo and simplify your department or your company’s communication style you can increase morale, productivity and even improve your culture while making an immediate and sustainable impact to your bottom line.


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