When Meetings Are Bad for the Company

I had a colleague in Germany who once told me, “If I didn’t have to go to a lot of these meetings, I’d enjoy my work more.” We probably had a lot of meetings – maybe too much – with them.

Internal discussion, status meetings, presentations, weekly update, checkpoints —you name it; they are all types of internal collaboration, otherwise called meetings. Internal collaboration is almost generally viewed as good for a company. Leaders regularly challenge us to collaborate, to talk to different departments, and chat with counterparts in different business units and work together in cross-unit teams. Where do we end up? Typically, swamped by information overload, spending more than 50% of our time in meetings and spending 20% preparing for it. Contrary to popular opinion, you indeed can have too much of a good thing. 

MeetingI am not saying meetings are bad.  Not at all.  It is a time-tested tool for communication and assistance for employees in aligning activities to desired goals. It is vital for projects and operations. In leading a team or department, I hold meetings periodically (and sometimes more than necessary). It is essential to functioning teams. There is simply no substitute for a good meeting. Meetings, working with teams and collaborating across organizational boundaries can create tremendous value. 

However, conventional wisdom rests on the false assumption that the more employees meet and collaborate, the better off the organization will be. The fact is, too many meetings can easily undermine productivity and performance. 

Knowing when (and when not) to meet 

There is an existing rule of thumb for this; I certainly don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Let me cite what effectivemeetings.com has to say on this subject. I got this from the article, Six Tips for more Effective Meetings. You will be surprised with tip number one: Don’t meet!.  

Avoid a meeting if the same information could be covered in a memo, e-mail or brief report. One of the keys to having more effective meetings is differentiating between the need for one-way information dissemination and two-way information sharing. To disseminate information you can use a variety of other communication media, such as sending an e-mail or posting the information on your company’s intranet. If you want to be certain you have delivered the right message, you can schedule a meeting to simply answer questions about the information you have sent. By remembering to ask yourself, “Is a meeting the best way to handle this?” you’ll cut down on wasted meeting time and restore your group’s belief that the meetings they attend are necessary. “

What’s a good meeting? 

You know when you’re attending one. There is a good reason to meet in the first place. The purpose, agenda and timeframe are clear. The participants are prepared and there is some degree of skilled facilitation. It is important to have someone who can keep participants focused on the goal in mind and can navigate issues so that the meeting can be effective. In good meetings you always leave with clear action items. 

Managers who emphasize the benefits of meeting are right. But they should temper those that do it excessively. It is a mistake to underestimate the equivalent time and cost the company spends in meetings. We should approach holding meetings as a group value-creating endeavor. Although getting together to collaborate is imperative to a working environment, the challenge is not to cultivate more and more meetings. Rather, it’s to develop the right meetings so we can achieve objectives and goals otherwise not possible when we work alone.

Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

16 thoughts on “When Meetings Are Bad for the Company

  1. Hi, Glen! Thanks for this website! It´s nice to hear from you.

    I will add 2 important things about meetings:

    – Respect other´s time. If it is a 1 hour meeting, try to handle in 1 hour. And please, be punctual!!
    – Dont go to a meeting if you are not gonna participate on it. And participate doesn´t mean just be there….

    1. Hola Rafa, nice to hear from you again! Thanks for your inputs. Indeed respect for time and participation are essential for an effective meeting. In consulting I’m sure you are into a lot of meetings. These tips do come in handy. I appreciate it, Regards.

  2. I believe meetings are important but only in so much as they are relevant. To gauge relevance one must consider count of participants and content of the meeting. Meetings gets addictive with some managers, almost on impulse they would request meeting when in fact relevant persons are just 1 or 2 specialist. I strongly agree for mere updates or for issues that can be attended to by one key person using other medium of communication like emails is better than prompting meetings all the time.


  3. Also, periodical meetings turn tedious to attend; eventually the participants lost interest to the “follow up” part and only pay attention to the “issues” part… I guess the follow up part could be cover with an e-mail and leave the meeting for the issues and the attendants must be only those involved.

    Great article Glenn!

    1. Thanks for the input Gaby. Certainly, there are different ways to do follow-up on issues and action items from previous meetings– it may not be in a form of another meeting. Thanks for ready my article. I appreciate it.


  4. I agree with May. There should be action items after each meeting.
    But let us not forget that there are so-called informal meetings just for the sake of getting connected with our collegues. No expected result after the meeting. This type of meeting boosts teamwork and commaraderie.

    1. Baldwin, boosting camaraderie and teamwork are positive results in itself, so that informal meeting you mentioned does bring value creation.

      Thanks for your comments.

    2. Yeah, I totally agree! Informal meetings as well as formal meetings could develop camarederie and good relations with colleagues. I am always excited to attending meetings because I get updated with the other teams and what’s going on the organization as a whole.

  5. I think meetings can be worthless if there are no actions afterwards. Presentations, papers really look so appealing but reality check says another thing. My definition of a good meeting………….Input vs Output irregardless of the objective, I think everything can be measured.

    1. I agree with you May, like what I said, in good meetings you always leave with clear action items. We should approach holding meetings as a group value-creating endeavor. I think that’s what you mean by measuring input vs output of a meeting. Thanks for your input May.


  6. My friend…good article, one year ago you designed a “Fast Break Meeting”, that worked very good…could you send me the document….


    1. Hi Eber, my friend, I will send you the document tomorrow. I will look for it. Thanks for dropping a note. I appreciate it.


  7. I’ve certainly had my share of “nonsense” meetings. These are meetings where we’re basically just repeating what we said the previous meeting or the person who called the meeting have absolutely no idea where the meeting is (or should be) going. These are the meetings where we’re all only half-attending the meeting — physically there but mentally counting the minutes until we can continue doing the real work (for which the meeting was called).

    I agree that meetings remain important. But it’s always quality over quantity. Bosses need to discriminate between necessary meetings and meetings that just SEEM necessary. Some people seem to think that if they’re always meeting with their staff or team members, they’re a better manager. That’s not always true. In fact, sometimes its downright inefficient. Obviously this is not the kind of manager or boss you’d want to be.

  8. Hi readers,

    Do you feel you are spending too much time in meetings?

    Good meetings are rare, but you know when you’re attending one. Please feel free to share with us your thoughts about the topic. I’d be happy to get meeting tips from you too.


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