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Is An Empty Meeting Room a Sign of Productivity?

While working at a SaaS provider that was growing exponentially, one week I actually hit a saturation point where my entire work week was reserved in meetings. It was destroying my productivity and, worse, it wasn’t actually enabling any teamwork. Members were utilizing the meeting to avoid risk, assign blame, or simply to pass the buck. At the time, I was a product manager so there was high demand for my time with sales, customer service, account management and the development team. Since I was the decision-maker on the product, everyone wanted a piece of me.

So, I decided that I would not attend any more meetings until some changes were made.

Demanding Efficiency, Outlining Purpose

Making meetings worth the time they take isn’t all that difficult, though it’s surprising what monumental time-wasters they can become if people ignore a few simple needs. When I determined I wouldn’t participate in meetings that resulted in more lost time than gained insight, I demanded that those I did attend meet the following criteria:

  1. Every meeting invitation came with an agenda, a goal for the meeting, and a reason why each person needed to personally attend. Blank meeting requests were immediately declined with no reason provided. If partial information was provided, I would request the necessary clarification.
  2. Every meeting started with clarification of the goals, status of the tasks assigned in previous meetings, and why each person was in attendance. The person organizing the meeting lead the meeting and ensured that they were productive. We typically assigned both a timekeeper and a scribe.  The timekeeper kept us on time, the scribe kept and distributed the notes for the meeting.
  3. Every meeting ended with an action plan. Each item on the action plan defined who was responsible, what their task is, and when they had to finish it by. If a follow up meeting was required, it was scheduled at that point.

At no point did we ever automatically schedule weekly or monthly follow-up meetings. Meetings were scheduled dependent upon the tasks distributed and the date they were due (this, of course, was outside of daily scrum meetings). That doesn’t mean we didn’t have meetings — sometimes we had them more often! It just ensured there was a purpose to each meeting.

Unclogging the Productivity Pipeline

The results I witnessed were amazing. The meeting rooms weren’t clogged, the meetings were truly productive, the employees were held accountable, the teams worked better together and — best of all — my productivity skyrocketed. Meetings are sometimes necessary for clarification, but not always. They can be an inhibitor to progress and can be very expensive. I often liken a meeting to providing everyone on the assembly line with a button to stop production. At any point in a meeting, it can be derailed by “that person” and productivity is lost for everyone. The tip to productivity is to remove the barriers that slow us down, not add to them.

In terms of the bottom line, unproductive meetings make zero financial sense. If you have 10 employees, who each make approximately $90k+ a year, meeting once a week, that’s over $25k a year, just to account for the manpower to attend a single weekly meeting. Not to mention the first 10 minutes trying to get the projector to work, waiting for latecomers to show up, or the follow-ups that have to happen for people who couldn’t make it. Good business requires an intimate understanding of the returns gained on any investment. Do you know what the return on investment for your meetings is? Do you even know how much you’re company is spending on meetings? Collaborative platforms and modern communications offer the opportunity to remove the barriers that require in-person meetings. Rather than interrupting schedules and productivity, we can move the projects forward in a continuous effort utilizing these tools and avoiding meetings.

Some of the companies I’ve worked with have moved their meetings to standups so the attendees don’t get to comfy in those boardroom chairs. So is an empty meeting room a sign of productivity? I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips in the comments.

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