To Meet Or Not To Meet: That Is The Question

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Jim Mcnaughton, MBA, CFP®

Financial Advisor
Momentum Independent Network Inc.
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Give serious thought to the things you can do to help make your meeting as productive as possible.


We’ve all been in meetings where we thought, “This is a waste of my time.” And in most cases, we were right. Our attendance wasn’t necessary. We wasted time that could have been used more productively on other matters.

Now, imagine how many people with similar “why am I here?” thoughts are dragooned into meetings every day. Staff meetings. Team meetings. Management meetings. Brainstorming meetings. Planning meetings. Meetings to discuss future meetings. Meetings to debrief the meeting that just took place.

So many meetings take place across the economy that the number is probably incalculable, with the best estimate I’ve seen placing the total somewhere between 36 million per day at the low end and 56 million per day at the high end. And these numbers are just for the United States.

That’s the big picture—hard to get your arms around. At the individual level the story becomes more focused, with 85% of the senior leaders at one of our clients, a global technology company, telling us that they spend at least six out of every ten working hours in meetings.

Scheduling meetings has become the default response for many people who encounter problems at work. A meeting, however, may not always be the best course of action. Here are some suggestions to help you answer the question: to meet or not to meet?

· Before scheduling any meeting think through the situation. Don’t schedule a meeting to create the illusion of progress.

· If you know what needs to be done—do it! Schedule a meeting only if you need real-time input or feedback from others.

· If you don’t need immediate face-to-face assistance, use other means to collaborate, such as email, phone calls or online chats. In many cases the response you’ll get will be more thoughtful and nuanced than what you would have gotten at a meeting, which creates different dynamics, such as the need for quick response, rather than reflection.

Meetings, moreover, don’t work for everyone: an individual who is introverted, for example, or doesn’t want to be there and spends the entire time multi-tasking (or worse, working on something unrelated). And who hasn’t been turned off at a meeting by a know-it-all who enjoys the spotlight and likes to hear his (or her) own voice?

If a Meeting is the Best Option, Make it Productive

All meetings are not useless, of course. Far from it. Even those meetings that wasted your time probably benefitted others. So, give serious thought to the things you can do to help make your meeting as productive as possible.

But keep in mind that meeting costs are real—and often substantial.

Arun Agrahi, in an article called “ The Real Cost of Meetings ,” provides a practical back-of-the-envelope reality check: “Consider the hourly wage of each participant. Multiply that by the length of the meeting. Add up the cost for each participant, and voila, you have your meeting cost.”

But that’s not all, he reminds us. “Don’t forget to factor in the opportunity cost—the value of the work that could have been done in the time spent at the meeting.”

And, of course, there may be other costs: food, room rentals, travel and lodging.

A number of organizations—including Omni Calculator , Shopify , and others—have created meeting cost calculators. The thinking goes that leaders might think twice about needing a meeting when they realize it will take a sizeable bite out of the budget.

When a meeting is necessary, it’s the originator’s job to make it work. Here are some helpful hints:

· Clearly define the purpose of the meeting by framing the agenda as a set of questions that need to be answered. This defines the “why” of the meeting.

· Provide all attendees with meeting-related reading material in advance and be clear about the role each will play.

· Begin the meeting by reviewing the purpose and goal and keep the discussion on target, so the pending questions are answered. Since participants all have roles to play, make sure they all participate.

· Circle back with a recap, highlighting next steps, who’s responsible for completing them, and when they must be completed.

As Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried has said, “Meetings should be like salt—a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful.”

The truth is: With advanced planning, meetings can be useful tools. It’s up to you to use them properly.

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Jim Mcnaughton profile photo

Jim Mcnaughton, MBA, CFP®

Financial Advisor
Momentum Independent Network Inc.
Schedule a meeting