Bad meetings: Reasons, risks, and remedies
Meetings represent a significant investment in terms of an organisation's time and finances. So why are so many organisations suffering from bad meetings? Read our white paper to find more on bad meetings.
Meetings represent a significant investment in terms of an organisation's time and finances. The costs of bad meetings, therefore, are huge - both in terms of the time that is wasted, as well as the opportunity costs of squandering time that could otherwise be used to create value. In Germany alone, an estimated €64.72BN is wasted due to bad meetings, and this figure is even higher in the United States, where sunk costs reach almost $400BN.
So why are so many organisations suffering from bad meetings? In this article, we will explore:
- the reasons behind bad meetings
- the risks associated with them, and
- the ways to remedy them
in order to ensure that your organisation avoids the destructive nature of bad meetings all together.
What is a bad meeting?
Before we can explore any further, we must first agree what we mean when we describe a meeting as ‘bad.’ The idea of bad meetings has become synonymous with ‘ineffective meetings’ or ‘unproductive meetings’, but the principles are broader than that, and therefore we need a more inclusive definition.
According to the Harvard Business Review, a bad meeting is one where participants “meet too often,” where “a few people [are allowed] to dominate conversations”, and where leaders fail “to create an environment where attendees really wrestle with ideas and engage in critical thinking.”1 In addition to this, a bad meeting is one that lacks purpose. Nobody enjoys meeting for meeting’s sake, and therefore a meeting without a clear objective is frustrating for everybody involved.
A study conducted by Harvard Business School found that only 17% of leaders reported that their meetings are generally productive uses of group and individual time. A staggering 71% said that their meetings were unproductive and inefficient and 62% said meetings are missed opportunities to bring the team closer together. Similarly, a recent McKinsey survey found that 61% of leaders say that most of their decision-making time is used ineffectively.2
Therefore, simply put, a bad meeting is one that lacks purpose, and does not allow participants to collaborate effectively. A bad meeting lacks a structure that supports contribution from those who are best placed to comment on the issues being discussed, a structure that keeps participants aligned behind a common objective.
On the face of it, this seems straightforward, and should therefore be fairly easy to avoid. So, what are the reasons that so many organisations are still plagued with bad meetings?
The reasons for bad meetings
We have never been more equipped to lead successful meetings than we are today. So, why are so many meeting participants left thinking that meetings are a waste of time? The causes of bad meetings can be broken down into three simple categories: people, process, and technology.
Here we will explore these concepts in more detail:
Your people have significant influence over the course of your meetings, both in positive and negative ways. In the context of bad meetings, your people contribute by:
- Carrying dead weight
- Letting extraverts dominate discussions
- Tolerating show-boating, and
- Allowing leaders to talk at employees rather than engaging in meaningful discussions.
Processes are instrumental in causing bad meetings, as it governs the way your meetings are run. The role of process in bad meetings includes:
- Too many meetings
- Allowing meetings to run-on for too long
- Not creating, circulating, and following a clear agenda, and
- Not having clear action points and a roadmap for follow-up.
Technology is revolutionising our lives and our businesses, so why should meetings be any different? Failing to realise the full potential is a key way that technology can lead to bad meetings. In addition, having a patchwork of systems that do not connect seamlessly can be overwhelming for meeting participants, and can cause stress and frustration.
So now we know what the causes of bad meetings are, we can take a look at the risks associated with allowing bad meetings to continue.
The risks associated with unproductive meetings
The opportunities that exist in well-managed meetings are significant. The flip-side of this coin is that the risks associated with bad meetings are perhaps even more dramatic. The risks of bad meetings can be broken down, once again, into three key areas: financial, human, and cultural. Let us review these more closely:
To begin with the financial implications of bad meetings - it is estimated that more than half of executives’ time is spent in meetings. That’s half of your most senior employees’ wages that are potentially seeping away needlessly. As margins grow tighter and competition hardens, these are resources that could be dedicated to other value-creating areas of your business.
Bad meetings have a hugely detrimental impact on your human resources. Given the amount of time we spend in meetings, when your people are left thinking that meetings are a waste of time, there are huge consequences in terms of morale. This has a knock-on effect, risking the well-being of your employees, as well as hampering productivity, and reducing alignment, all of which increases the likelihood of burn-out, absences, and churn.
The cultural risks of bad meetings are far-reaching. Allowing bad meetings to continue in your company leads to the risk of establishing a bad meeting culture. This has impacts on both the present and the future of your company. A bad meeting culture will not only reduce performance of your existing staff, but will fail to retain and attract the best talent, which puts your business’ future in jeopardy.
Now that we have explored the meaning of, reasons for, and risks associated with bad meetings, it is time for us to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully there are solutions to the chaos of bad meetings. Let’s look at how to remedy the problem of bad meetings.
Remedies for bad meetings
It is with some relief that we arrive at the solutions for bad meetings. Thankfully there are a number of tools at your disposal to help avoid bad meetings all together.
The Azend® framework - a research-backed method of agile meeting management developed by Sherpany - offers a holistic approach to solve the problem of bad meetings. The remedies provided by the Azend® framework fall into the same categories as the reasons for bad meetings: people, process, and technology. Let’s take a closer look:
The human solutions to the problem of bad meetings are fairly straightforward. Ensuring that your people have sufficient training in managing meetings will help you to avoid elements such as ‘show-boating’, which erode productivity in meetings.
Good meetings need robust processes. This includes creating an agenda ahead of time, involving only those who can meaningfully contribute for each item, and ensuring a structured approach to both meeting minutes and follow-up items.
Selecting the right digital tools to manage your meetings is perhaps the silver bullet against bad meetings. An effective meeting management software will allow you to implement and regulate the processes surrounding your meetings, keeping your people focussed by following a clear agenda that they have had the opportunity to review and contribute to ahead of time.
Have we piqued your curiosity on the issue of bad meetings? Then read our white paper to find more on bad meetings and the ways in which Sherpany helps leaders to avoid them.
1 “Stop the Meeting Madness”, Leslie A. Perlow, Constance Noonan Hadley, Eunice Eun, HBR, 2017.
2 “Decision making in the age of urgency”, by Iskandar Aminov et al., McKinsey, 2019.