Managing Meeting Madness

Ah, meetings. A universally used workplace tactic – that is almost as universally derided. Noted humorist Dave Barry, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”

Why all the angst? For many, it’s about the time waste, a complaint that isn’t unfounded. In a just-released survey from Robert Half Management Resources, workers said a quarter of their time in meetings is wasted.

Of course, the drawbacks of ineffective meetings go beyond the time issue. Poorly run discussions interrupt productivity and further hinder workflow when they go later than scheduled. Wasting colleagues’ time also shows disrespect and drives down morale. It’s no wonder the combination of lost time, productivity and morale makes meetings such an extremely costly issue.

So what can professionals do to ensure they run effective meetings? After all, when conducted well, they provide a forum to deliver important updates, brainstorm new ideas and finalize strategies. The press release below includes some tips, and the following alternatives can help overcome the problems of meetings as well.

  • Stand-up meetings: Ideal for brief updates requiring face-to-face interaction, these sessions keep people on their toes (literally). And, because they can’t comfortably sit, attendees are less likely to engage in irrelevant chatter.
  • Walking meetings: Getting people out of their desks or familiar meeting rooms, by going outside, for example, can create new perspectives. If you’re moving from one part of the building to another on the way to a different appointment, there’s also a forced end to the discussion, helping it stay focused. An added benefit: Walking meetings are healthier.
  • Pre-lunch meetings: No one wants to have to skip lunch because they’re stuck in a meeting. As a result, people won't be as inclined to draw out the conversation and go off-topic – or let others do so.
  • Designated no-meeting days: Some companies have established parts of the weeks as meeting-free zones. While some discussions may still need to take place, the idea is to give employees that time to dedicate solely to their work. It also may force a little creativity in delivering updates instead of relying on staid meetings.

Worker Survey: One-Quarter of Time in Meetings Is Wasted; Biggest Beefs Include Lack of Agenda, Purpose

MENLO PARK, Calif., June 5, 2014 -- Remember your last hour-long meeting? Chances are 15 minutes of it went to waste, suggests a new Robert Half Management Resources survey. Professionals interviewed believe 25 percent of the time they spend in meetings is unproductive. Respondents feel the most common mistakes meeting leaders make are not sticking to an agenda and lacking a clear purpose for the gathering.

The survey was developed by Robert Half Management Resources, the world’s premier provider of senior-level finance, accounting and business systems professionals on a project and interim basis. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on interviews with more than 400 U.S. workers age 18 and over and employed in office environments.

Employees were asked, “In general, what percentage of the time you spend in meetings is wasted?” The mean was 25 percent.

Employees were also asked, “Which of the following mistakes do meeting leaders commonly make?” Their responses (multiple responses were allowed):

- Not having a clear purpose or agenda for the meeting: 30%
- Not sticking to an agenda: 30%
- Not ending on time: 20%
- Not starting on time: 15%
- Inviting people who don’t need to attend: 14%

Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, said misguided meetings can do more harm than good: “An unnecessary or poorly conducted meeting can bring everyone down because attendees feel like their time is not valued. Leaders can avoid this situation by clearly establishing the purpose of the discussion, ensuring the right people attend and providing them an opportunity to contribute.”


Robert Half Management Resources offers the following five tips for leading effective meetings:

1. Review the invite list. Limit attendees to those participants who have a stake in the outcome of items on the agenda. Indicating “required” versus “optional” attendance lets employees know when their participation and input is necessary and can help them prioritize their time.

2. Keep on track. Good leaders ensure the agenda and any supporting materials are accessible and publicized in advance, and that the discussion remains focused. Be prepared to cut off or table an unrelated conversation until a later time.

3. Plan accordingly. If it’s an in-person meeting, make sure there are enough seats in the room for everyone. Leave time for setup and pre-meeting technology challenges that may arise.

4. Monitor time. Keep it short and sweet. If a standing meeting is booked for an hour each week, but it usually lasts just 30 minutes, consider rethinking the time allotted. If there’s not much to discuss, consider using email or a memo as an alternative to a meeting.

5. Finish strong. If anyone leaves the meeting wondering what the next steps are, you haven’t done your job as meeting host. Allow time for people to ask questions, and determine who has responsibility for each follow-up item.

About Robert Half Management Resources
Robert Half Management Resources is the premier provider of senior-level finance, accounting and business systems professionals to supplement companies’ project and interim staffing needs. The company has more than 145 locations worldwide and offers assistance to hiring managers and consultants at and on its blog at

What practices have you found help leaders conduct meetings effectively? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

Photo credit: Head in Hands, by Alex Proimos, some rights reserved