Various studies estimate that there are between 10 and 17 million meetings on an average day in the United States, or more than three billion meetings per year. A meeting between several managers or executives may cost upwards of $1,000 per hour in salary costs alone.

All these meetings, and yet managers, supervisors, engineers and workers agree that many of them are a waste of time.

Do you ever get frustrated, getting called to attend meetings that seem to waste too much time? Do you ever wish you could do something about it?

Here are seven symptoms of bad meetings to look for, followed by suggestions on how to deal with them:


A lack of purpose

Do certain meetings ramble on, lack a clear purpose, lack an agenda or have an agenda that nobody follows?

What to do: Good meeting practice says that a specific agenda will reduce the time wasted in a meeting. A poll of 471 management leaders noted that 90 per cent of those polled attributed the failure of most meetings to a “lack of advanced planning and organisation”.

Not only is an agenda important, empowering people to point out when the meeting goes off the agenda can be essential too.


No ground rules

Did you ever notice people doing their own thing during the meeting: texting, talking on the phone, responding to e-mail, carrying on unrelated conversations?

What to do: One way to avoid this is to establish some ground rules before the meeting begins. Ground rules are the rules and regulations people agree on. Rules could include limits on texting, e-mail and telephone conversations and no off-board conversations.

People may need to be reminded of the ground rules at the beginning of the meeting, or during the meeting’s course.


A lack of preparation

Is it common for people to come to the meeting unprepared? They have not read the report, document, spread sheet that the meeting was about or have not done the research they promised?

What to do: A well-run organisation holds staff members accountable for doing their jobs and keeping their promises. People have roles in any organisation, and frequently other people rely on them to do what they said or promised.

Meetings are often places where people are expected to report on their work, share information and so on. When members fail to do what is expected of them, they waste other people’s time, particularly those who came to the meeting to learn what progress has been made.



Are decisions discussed but not decided? When decisions are made, do people continue to fight them, disavow them or bad-mouth them afterwards?

What to do: A good business process gets essential activities done with a minimum of waste. A good meeting process requires decisions or requires that the topic be continued to the next meeting. If a decision still can’t be made, the decision may need to be kicked upstairs or assigned to a sub-group.

The second issue is that after everyone has had their say and decisions are made, the decision needs to be supported by the whole group, even if some disagree. There is a special exception, such as where the decision is illegal, immoral or dangerous.


Uneven representation

Are your meetings dominated by a few talkers (not necessarily the leaders)? Conversely, are there knowledgeable people who are never heard from?

What to do: Facilitation can improve the process and outcome of meetings. According to an article in The Facilitator newsletter, using a skilled meeting facilitator increases the productivity of a project by 25 per cent. Of course they might have a bias, but having someone with training in meeting facilitation would probably improve most meetings.


Poor punctuality

Do people come late, or come and go? Do meetings start late and end late? The integrity of your work group or team is undermined when key people are missing; it doesn’t matter if this is from being late or leaving early. They might miss important communications or waste everyone else’s time when they have to be specially brought up to date.

What to do: Make punctuality a priority when establishing the ground rules.


Feelings of negativity

Do meetings leave you with a headache or feeling excessively tired? Do you usually leave certain meetings angry, frustrated or depressed? Is your style of meeting healthy for you? Do you go in and sit down with donuts, coffee, soft drinks, bagels and other foods that spike your blood sugar and then cause it to crash?

What to do: Ensure that meetings are no longer than necessary, and start and end on time. Are you holding the wrong type of meeting for any particular time of day? Try and substitute the donuts and cream buns for healthier snacks. Consider the logistics of the meeting to see if your meetings actually help or hinder the work of the organisation.

Industry Week magazine estimates that meetings waste $37 billion a year in the US alone. Some of that money is being wasted in your organisation.

This article is excerpted from The Meeting Idea Book by Joel Levitt ©2012 Joel Levitt Visit website for software tools to improve your meetings. Article  source: