Executive Meetings

Meeting ROI: How to profit from the time you invest in meetings

Unproductive meetings are a widespread problem. In this article, we quantify exactly how much they cost and share how to achieve a positive meeting ROI.

Tobias Kortas
Tobias Kortas

Time is money — and while this is almost universally accepted as a fact, it’s all too rarely applied in the context of meetings. Companies invest unimaginable amounts of time in meetings, and yet most organisations lack a notion of how much they actually cost. 

What’s more, unproductive meetings are a problem that board members, directors, and managers need to urgently address. To put it positively: even modest improvements in the productivity of meetings can lead to immense benefits. 

The need for action should not be underestimated. After all, leaders’ working time is precious: in order to get the most out of their working day — and that of their teams — leaders must be disciplined and strive to create the greatest possible value for their company.1 

Time spent in meetings is critical to success. According to Paul Axtell, a leading expert on meetings, "meetings are at the heart of an effective organisation, and every meeting is an opportunity to clarify issues, set new directions, sharpen focus, create alignment and advance goals".2


Meetings: Fundamental tools for business success

Studies show that meetings are fundamental instruments for the success of a company. As a result, over the past 50 years, their number and duration have steadily increased.3


Meetings are the tool that boards, directors, and executives use to achieve overarching goals. However, when they are dysfunctional, it leads to frustration for all involved.

Currently, senior executives spend an average of 23 hours per week in meetings. This compares to roughly ten hours per week in the 1960s.

This suggests two things:

  1. Time spent in meetings should be reduced — without sacrificing results.
  2. If managers spend so much time in meetings, this time should be used efficiently.

Sherpany advocates excellent meeting management — to make every meeting count. This means consistently optimising meetings. After all, the problem is not with meetings per se, but inadequate execution. Meeting time needs to be used more effectively.


How much does wasted meeting time cost?

Every minute spent in unproductive meetings is to the detriment of individual work, creativity, efficiency, and morale. The opportunity costs of unnecessary meetings are significant, as they interrupt vital "deep work" — instead of supporting it with relevant content and stimulus.

According to Cal Newport, Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, "deep work" describes the ability to focus on demanding cognitive tasks without distraction.4 When interruptions are too frequent, people often need to work late hours or weekends to complete tasks in a focused and quiet atmosphere.

If time is money, meetings are a significant financial investment for companies. For example, meeting experts predict that scheduled face-to-face business meetings (internal team meetings/training) will cost $554 per participant in Europe in 2023.5 Furthermore, Dirk Schmachtenberg, CEO of the technology consultancy Plan D, suggests that most meetings cost beyond €1,000 per hour.6 Against this background, one conclusion clearly comes to the fore: meeting time must be used as responsibly and efficiently as possible.


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Meeting cost calculator: Understanding the cost of meetings

The monetary costs of meetings become even more pronounced when looking at senior management. With the help of our Meeting Cost Calculator , we can easily estimate the salary costs invested in management meetings per year.

As an example, consider the following parameters:

  • 100 managers in a company.
  • An average annual salary of €100,000.
  • An average of 45 hours of working time per week.
  • 23 hours of time spent in meetings per week. 
  • 50% productivity in meetings (estimate by leading meeting expert Steven Rogelberg.) 

Tip: You are welcome to adapt these values in our meeting cost calculator to the circumstances in your company in order to obtain individually suitable values.

Background: Meetings can be described as productive if they serve clear objectives and clear progress is evident. Important parameters are a clear agenda (best formulated in questions), clearly goal-oriented discussions, the making of decisions and the transition to follow-up measures (action plan).

Overall, the above example shows total costs of 5.11 million Euros, and a potential saving of 2.55 million Euros, which will be realised when meetings are 100% productive. Per person, in this case, €25,500 could be saved per year, just over a quarter of the average respective staff costs of €100,000. In this example, you could avoid €511,000 per year in ineffectively used salary costs by changing only 10% of your meeting time from unproductive to productive.


Meeting Cost Calculator

The costs of different types of meeting

The above example shows the potential personnel costs that a company invests annually in management meetings. To have a broader overview, it’s worthwhile to look at costs across different types of meetings .

The following formal meetings can therefore be taken into account:

  • Administrative and supervisory board meetings
  • Management meetings
  • Steering committee meetings
  • Team meetings
  • Project meetings


Costs of supervisory and administrative board meetings

It can be guessed that supervisory board meetings generate the highest costs per individual expenditure. The members of this body are in fact paid — more or less — for these meetings alone, so that the capital expenditure per meeting — for these highly remunerated positions — is extremely high. 

If we assume remuneration of 50,000 € per participant per year, and eight members in the board and eight meetings per year, this results in costs per individual meeting of also 50,000 €.

The fact that board meetings are far less regular than management meetings moderates the annual costs downwards. It should be noted, however, that many organisations have a number of related committees, each of which has regular meetings, which increases the overall costs of this type of meeting.


Other meeting types in comparison

For comparison: while a top management meeting (C-level) entails lower costs, they are still very high. If we assume eight participants, an average duration of four hours, and an average salary per hour of €190, we arrive at a meeting cost of more than €6,000. However, these meetings are much more frequent than board meetings — fortnightly on average — which raises the annual costs significantly in comparison. 

Due to lower salary costs per hour and a shorter duration, steering committee meetings (2 hours), team meetings (3 hours), and project meetings (3 hours), actually cost significantly less in this example: between €1,300 and €1,500 per meeting. However, this is still an expense for which a thoughtful approach is required — especially given their frequency. 

For example, for a team meeting with seven participants, a duration of three hours, and an average salary per hour of 63 €, one comes to costs of 1,323 € per meeting. 

Depending on the frequency of the respective meeting types, different ratios can be assumed for the annual costs. For example, board meetings with comparatively few meetings per year — despite their high individual costs — are not too significant. By contrast, team meetings — due to their high relative frequency and greater number of participants — actually account for the highest annual costs. Employees spend on average up to 40% of their working time in meetings; in a 40-hour week, this corresponds to roughly three hours in meetings per day.


Time must be used efficiently to achieve business goals

The calculations presented above demonstrate the importance of meeting time being well thought out and efficiently used. The board level —followed by the top management level — benefits most from high meeting efficiency, although meetings at lower hierarchical levels also need to be deeply considered.

The challenge is to optimise as many meetings as possible, in order to achieve more productive meeting time. The overriding goal is to make more efficient use of working time, especially for managers. The use of meeting time is about nothing other than the company's own goals. And if top-level meetings do not serve these, why should you stick to them unchanged? 

Sacha Gerber, CFO of the Calida Group, says in our case study : "Time is money. When we meet, we want it to be efficient."


The consequences of squandered meeting costs

For everyday business, wasted meeting costs can mean the following:

  • Full potential is not realised. Companies pay high salaries, but do not use them to achieve goals.
  • Managers view meetings as must-have or necessary evil, instead of seeing them as a clear instrument for achieving goals.
  • Leaders feel inner fatigue and question the value of meetings: Why am I spending time in unproductive meetings instead of being able to achieve my goals?


Positive meeting ROI: How can time be better used?

Many companies still find it difficult to assess meeting ROI. Taking concrete steps to turn this into adequate returns is yet another enormous challenge. 

For example, most organisations place few restrictions on who can schedule a meeting and under what circumstances. As a result, meetings are scheduled without the slightest consideration of time or cost. 

That said, meetings are important for facilitating collaboration, creativity, and innovation. When used effectively, they foster relationships, ensure efficient flows of information , and deliver clear added value — value that is worth investing in.


 The focus needs to be on viewing (meeting) time as a valuable resource and using it as profitably as possible.

Three key points to increase the ROI of your meetings

To transform meetings into powerful tools, the following three key aspects can help: 

1. Assess your approach to meetings

Start by asking yourself:

  • What kind of meeting culture is prevalent? 
  • How do senior management representatives implement their meetings? 
  • Is there clear meeting leadership and is it well enough trained for this role? 
  • How are formal meetings generally perceived? 
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the status quo? 

An assessment of meeting practices in your organisation can lead to a clear identification of specific problems. This will help form a strong indicator of where improvements are needed to make meetings more time and cost efficient.


2. Implement clear rules and processes

When it comes to formal meetings, clear rules and processes are needed. Central to this is a set of organisational and workflow patterns that promote alignment, collaboration, and execution. These provide the stability needed to act appropriately and to use time investments in meetings efficiently and purposefully.


3. Using the right technology

Finally, processes need to be streamlined and automated. Technology is a key driver here. Companies that use the right technological solutions gain a competitive advantage and are more likely to increase the efficiency and productivity of their meetings. 

In order to make meetings efficient as the most used management tool, the investment in a meeting management solution pays off quickly: given the immense "hidden costs" of frequently used time resources, the chances of a positive meeting ROI are extremely high. As we have seen, just 10% more productive meetings makes a significant difference.


Successful case studies for efficient meeting management

Generous increases thanks to dedicated technology are anything but unrealistic: for example, Airline Assistance Switzerland (AAS) has managed to halve the time spent on their meetings by using our meeting management solution and our Excellent Meeting Journey — a process for optimising meetings — demonstrating enormously positive meeting ROI. Read more in our  case study — Airline Assistance Switzerland (AAS)

Furthermore, the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) Group benefits from increased productivity through Sherpany: "The assistants, executives and board members save hours of work. We are more efficient and save money," reports Chairman of the Board Dr Carole Ackermann in our case study — Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) Group .

The former CEO of the Zuger Kantonalbank, Pascal Niquille, also estimated that Sherpany saved him at least six hours a week in meeting preparation alone. Read more in this case study — Zuger Kantonalbank .


Capitalise on your investment in meetings

Given the significant time that leaders spend in meetings — of all types — a lack of productivity generates immense costs. Therefore, meeting time should be used as efficiently as possible to make it meaningful and achieve a positive meeting ROI. 

Companies should start viewing meeting time as a precious resource. This also applies to individuals: Anyone who schedules a meeting must be aware of the responsibility that comes with it — participants' time should not be wasted.

As meetings are the most used management tool, unproductivity should by no means be considered a necessary evil. Rather, it needs to be a matter of consistently using meetings more efficiently in order to achieve high impacts and countable results through them. To do this justice and to reliably achieve a positive meeting ROI, you need the right knowledge, processes, and technology.

Do you want to know more about our solution ?

1 " Your Scarcest Resource ", Michael Mankins, Chris Brahm und Greg Caimi, Harvard Business Review. 2014.

2 "Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations", Paul Axtell, 2015.

3 " The Science and Fiction of Meetings ", Steven G. Rogelberg, Cliff Scott und John Kello, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2007.

4 " Halte à la folie des réunions ", Eunice Eun, Constance Noonan Hadley, Leslie A. Perlow, Harvard Business Review, 2018.

5 " Kosten pro Teilnehmer der geplanten persönlichen Meetings im Jahr 2023 weltweit nach Art der Veranstaltung und Region ", Statista, 2023.

6 " Die meisten Meetings kosten mehr als 1000 Euro pro Stunde ", n-tv, 2023.

7 " Why companies continue to have terrible meetings? ", Sherpany, 2023.

Tobias Kortas
Tobias Kortas
About the author
Tobias is an experienced writer who loves creating valuable content. His journalistic background allows him a deep focus on topics such as meeting management, digital transformation and agile leadership.