Meetings: The Death of American Productivity

meetings productivity

Meetings at companies are expensive, interrupt productivity, and are often an absolute waste of time. Here are three types of meetings that damage the productivity of a business and can irreparably hurt the culture:

  • Meetings to avoid accountability. Chances are that you’ve hired someone who is responsible to get the job done. If you’re holding a meeting to decide for them… or worse… to take the decision away from them, you’re making a mistake. If you don’t trust the person to do the job, then fire them.
  • Meetings to spread consensus. This is a little bit different… typically held by the decision-maker. He or she isn’t confident in their decision and is scared about the repercussions. By holding a meeting and getting consensus from the team, they wish to spread the blame and reduce their accountability.
  • Meetings to have meetings. There’s nothing worse than interrupting someone’s day for the daily, weekly, or monthly meeting where there’s no agenda and nothing happens. These meetings are incredibly expensive to a company, often costing thousands of dollars each.

Every meeting should have a goal that can’t be met independently… perhaps brainstorming, communicating an important message, or breaking down a project and assigning tasks. Every company should make a rule – a meeting without a goal and agenda should be denied by the invitee.

Why Meetings Suck

Why do meetings suck? What steps can you take to make meetings productive? I’ve tried to answer all those questions in this humorous (yet honest) presentation on meetings I did about a decade ago.

This is an enhanced view of the presentation I did in person. This presentation on Meetings has been coming for a while, I’ve written about meetings and productivity in the past. I’ve attended a ton of meetings, and a majority of them have been a terrible waste of time.

As I started my own business, I found that I allowed a lot of time to get sucked out of my schedule by meetings. I’m a lot more disciplined now. If I have work or projects to do, I begin canceling and rescheduling meetings. If you’re consulting for other companies, your time is all you have. Meetings can eat that time up quicker than almost any other activity.

In an economy where productivity must increase and resources are declining, you may want to take a closer look at meetings to find opportunities to improve both.

Some folks scratch their head when I’m late for a meeting or why I decline their meetings. They think it’s rude that I might show up late… or not show up at all. What they never recognize is that I’m never late for a worthy meeting. I think it’s rude that they held the meeting or invited me in the first place.

10 Rules For Meetings

  1. Worthy meetings should have an agenda that includes who is in attendance, why each of them is there, and what the goal of the meeting is.
  2. Worthy meetings are called when needed. Meetings that are on a repeat schedule should be canceled if there’s no goal that will be achieved in the meeting that day.
  3. Worthy meetings gather the right minds to work as a team to solve a problem, develop a plan, or implement a solution. The more people that are invited, the more difficult it is to gain consensus.
  4. Worthy meetings are not the place to attack or try to embarrass other members.
  5. Worthy meetings are a place of respect, inclusion, teamwork, and support.
  6. Worthy meetings begin with a set of goals to complete and finish with an action plan of who, what, and when will do the work.
  7. Worthy meetings have members that keep the topic on track so that the collective time of all members is not put to waste.
  8. Worthy meetings should have a designated location that is well-known ahead of time by all members.
  9. Worthy meetings are not the place to avoid personal responsibility for your job and to attempt to cover your butt (that’s email).
  10. Worthy meetings are not the place to showboat and try to get an audience (that’s a conference).

How To Have A Productive Meeting

Many years ago, I went through a leadership class where they taught us how to have meetings. That may sound funny, but the expense of meetings with large organizations is significant. By optimizing every meeting, you saved money, won back individuals’ time, and built up your teams instead of hurting them.

Team meetings had:

  • Leader – the person who is holding the meeting with a specific goal or goals in mind.
  • Scribe – a person who documents the notes of the meeting and the action plan for distribution.
  • Timekeeper – a person whose responsibility is to keep the meeting and individual segments of the meeting on time.
  • Gatekeeper – a person whose responsibility is to keep the meeting and individual segments of the meeting on the topic.

The last 10 minutes or so of every meeting were used to develop an Action Plan. The Action Plan had 3 columns – Who, What, and When. Defined in each action was who would do the work, what the measurable deliverables were, and when they would have it by. It was the leaders’ job to hold people accountable for the agreed-upon deliverables. By instituting these rules for meetings, we were able to switch meetings from being interruptive and began to make them productive.

I’d challenge you to think about each meeting you’re having, whether it’s revenue-generating, whether it’s productive, and how you’re managing them. I utilize Calendly to schedule my meetings and often wonder how many meetings I would actually have if folks who invited me had to pay a fee by credit card to schedule it! If you had to pay for your next meeting out of your salary, would you still have it?

Disclosure: Martech Zone is an affiliate of Calendly and I’m using my affiliate link for it in this post.


  1. 1
  2. 2

    Meetings to plan meetings. The death of any corporate institution is the substitution of individual talent and abilities with collective buy-in and compromise to the lowest common denominator. I agree with a lot Doug has to say here.

    Good tension = healthy tension. I love going into meetings having already produced something without collective buy-in. Call it “proof of concept” and you’re almost always assured executive buy-in. Try it out: it’s constructive, it’s proactive, and it challenges people to think differently.

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.